Aviation Skills Shortage in Africa Reaching Crisis Proportions

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Insufficient training capacity and an exodus of skilled manpower lead a list of factors that have resulted in a shortage of aviation professionals in Africa, according to airline executives and African aviation authorities. Speaking during this month’s recent ICAO Global Training and Trainer Plus Symposium held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde Gebremaraim expressed concern that aviation development hasn’t kept pace with economic growth in Africa, hindering its ability to serve the population’s growing middle class. “All of us in Africa are concerned that the aviation sector is not developing as fast as the economic growth in the continent,” he said.

 
African pilots and technicians continue their migration to the Middle East in search of better pay; recently Kenya Airways and South African Airways saw large numbers leave their ranks to join Persian Gulf carriers. Meanwhile, air traffic controllers and radar technicians have also migrated to other regions. Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority director Wossenyeleh Hunegnaw told AIN that staff retention stands as his authority’s biggest challenge.  A recent market forecast by Airbus indicates that Africa would need 1,000 commercial jets and 21,700 new pilots in the coming 20 years, while Boeing estimates that Africa would demand 18,000 new pilots and 22,000 technicians over the same time period.

 
Over the next 20 years new aircraft will need to be commanded by qualified pilots and maintained by skilled technicians and managed by competent air traffic controllers,” ICAO Secretary General Fang Liu. “Air transport is not only a transportation means but it is [also] an economic enabler and driver of national and economic development. However, in order to further develop aviation human capacity is a key. As we know there is a gap between the number of professionals sought and the training capacity in particular in Africa.”

 
Liu, who lauded the establishment of the Association of African Aviation Training Organizations, said that ICAO is working hard with African states to further develop aviation training entities. “We want to see how to strengthen aviation subjects in the universities and also promote aviation in the existing universities’ program,” she noted. Liu advised African countries to properly manage and plan their human resources through collaboration among their respective aviation authories.
Cooperation is another important factor in our training capacity solutions for short and long term success,” she said. “This is a perfect opportunity to increase state-to-state coordination.”

 
Liu further noted that ICAO has developed the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa (AFI Plan) with the view of assisting member states to meet the organization’s safety standards. “I should emphasize that ICAO could take effective [measures] only when governments take ownership and have the political will and commitment to effectively implement ICAO standards,” she stressed.

 
Within the AFI Plan, African member states have established targets for effective implementation of ICAO standards called the Abuja Safety Plan. Under that plan, ICAO cooperates with African member states, the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the African Union and the industry. “ICAO’s team in our African regional offices in Nairobi and Dakar help member states as first priority in addressing significant safety concerns.” However, Liu told AIN that member states must proportionally increase investment in financial and human resources to strengthen their safety oversight functions.

 
In the coming years safety remains priority for every state including African states,” she said. “Without aviation safety the air transport development could not be sustained. It is extremely important that we encourage member states to invest in CAAs and empower them with appropriate human and financial resources that enable them to undertake proper safety oversight.

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