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South Africa at risk of losing pilots and other valuable skills overseas: minister

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has warned that aviation skills are in short supply across the world – and that South Africans will be in high demand once international lockdown restrictions lift.

Addressing the national aviation conference on Thursday (8 April), Mbalula said that government, regulators. and operators need to collaborate to ensure that the aviation industry is well-positioned to recover and capitalise on the opportunities presented by the pandemic.

“In our case, we have seen many of our well-trained and experienced aviators being lured away from South Africa to jobs and opportunities in countries that are offering much better remuneration,” he said.

“The aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak will only serve to intensify the competition for limited scarce and critical skills. It is critical, therefore, to plan ahead for such a reality, as this may compromise our country’s sterling record in relation to upholding civil aviation safety and security,” he said.

Mbalula added that the local aviation sector must be ready for the lifting of travel restrictions that were brought about by the onset of the pandemic.

“There is no doubt that the aviation industry will eventually take off. However, when it does, the entire value chain must be ready to hit the ground running and take advantage of the opportunities of the new economy.

“Moreover, we must be ready to assimilate air taxis and other remotely piloted aircraft systems into the currently well-oiled, well-organised and well-managed conventional airspace. Very soon, airspaces across the globe will resemble nothing we have witnessed before. We must rise up and be equal to the challenge,” he said.

Data from the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) shows that at the beginning of March, the number of departing passengers in 2020 fell by 65.8% compared to 2019, from 21.6 million to 7.4 million passengers.

The decline in domestic departing passengers was 61.9% and the international departing passengers fell by 74.6%.

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