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Factors contributing to turbulence in SA aviation

May 26 2016 07:35
Javed Malik, co-chair of Skywise Airlines*

By Javed Malik, co-chair of Skywise Airlines*

The last few months I have been appealing through my articles to the domestic aviation industry to work together, and also to wise up in the way certain things have to be done.

If you have read these articles, you will remember what I predicted about further turbulence in the South African aviation industry. This turbulence, which is currently sweeping our sector, was long overdue.

There are several factors contributing to turbulence in domestic aviation which, in my opinion, would require a revolution to turn around the situation.


The foremost factor is perhaps that in my view there is no real transformation taking place, and due to this there is little growth happening in the aviation sector.

As I take an in-depth look at the industry today, I see that the same people who have been in the industry for decades are still holding on to their operations. I believe that in most cases they are too rigid and, worse still, reluctant to give others room to enter; they are also not willing to share their expertise.
It’s a pity that in this industry no one seems to be willing to open their arms to new entries, all of which is intended to push start-ups out of the market.

Approaching established airline players is a mammoth task, no matter which part of aviation they are in. As if that is not enough, established airlines use their financial muscle through the media to influence South African travellers.

How many established airlines have blacks in their top management and if they are there, what is their ratio in relation to transformation or the race balance in South Africa? How many companies owned by blacks are in the MRO (maintenance, repair and operate) business in South Africa?

Transformation is not about taking selfies next to aircraft at an air show or an open day organised by an air operator so that everybody keeps quiet. We hear talk of transformation at gatherings everywhere, but action is not happening on the ground. Where is transformation happening in domestic aviation?
Due to the above, I am afraid transformation will likely take many years to be fully realised in the domestic aviation industry or will never happen if the authorities do not take immediate action.

During this prolonged span, we will continue to witness other things that are connected to transformation such as the shortage of skills transfer, which is currently slow-paced in the aviation industry space.
However, I can foresee real transformation finally being realised despite current resistance from those who have long enjoyed the fruits of the economy.

Part of my advice is that established aviation players must be pressured to feel the heat and be in a position to want to share what they have.


While organisations like the Airports Company SA (Acsa) must be upfront and leading in their crucial role, I think they still need to do more to ensure black people have the means to own and operate major aviation facilities like aircraft hangars and MROs if transformation in domestic aviation is to be meaningful.

There is talk of the imminent availability of more hangars in South Africa and I would like to appeal to Acsa to ensure these are allocated to as many black-owned companies as possible. The same goes for the future and current availability of major retail facilities at airports that should be offered at better rates.

This drive, together with a deliberate thrust to bring up new aviators and technical expertise through assisting aviation entrepreneurs and training and uplifting black aircraft engineers, should take our aviation to exciting new levels.

Authorities, with the cooperation of other stakeholders, should also put in place policies that separate start-ups from being compared to established airlines, as grouping them into one category when dealing with their concerns is unfair due to mainly financial and historical factors.

BEE partners must wake up

Likewise, blacks in key black economic empowerment (BEE) positions must wake up and begin to make real action part of major decisions in their respective workplaces to advance transformation, rather than being merely satisfied with salaries and perks.

Equally to blame in the slow growth of transformation are BEE partners in the domestic airline industry. These partners need to wake up now and be heard as the champion voices of transformation through taking decisions from the board room onto the work floor. Only then can we see a thorough involvement of key BEE stakeholders effecting tangible and desired results.

I must also point out that the willingness to transform is evident in some institutions, though the pace tends to be very slow, when compared with the greater need and the years we have come from democracy.
I urge our aviation sector to practise constant introspection to eliminate individualism and lack of networking in the sector.

Looking into the future, I am of the opinion that implementing the above suggestions will usher in a revolution that will shake up our aviation industry and open it up to all, regardless of their colour or background.

* Acsa suspended low-cost airline Skywise's flights on December 2 2015 due to unpaid airport and related service charges. Acsa maintains all its decisions and actions have been taken in the company's best commercial interests, while ensuring the sustainability of SA’s aviation industry. In January 2016 the Competition Commission decided not to refer a Skywise complaint against Acsa to the Competition Tribunal.



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