South African aviation sector must look at skills shortage

03 November 2015

The aviation and aerospace sector must unlock opportunities that have socio- economic benefits for South Africa, according to Barlow Manilal, the chief executive of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).

“We need to ensure that we can unlock opportunities so that it changes the trajectory of this country and ensure that we pave the economic pathway going forward,” he added. Manilal was speaking at the Avi Awards ceremony, the first of its kind to be held in South Africa.

The ceremony coincided with the Avi Afrique Expo, held on Wednesday, 28 October. It was a pair of days given over all things aviation, with the 2015 Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) Avi Afrique Innovation Summit held on 29 October. Both events took place at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria.

A highlight of the week was the top award, which went to the creator of South Africa’s first aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The theme for this fourth annual conference was “Innovation: the key to aviation sustainability in Africa”.

About 450 delegates attended, according to spokesperson Percy Morokane, including 160 global and local industry decision-makers, academia and other aviation space experts.

The focus of discussions on innovation would be around the challenges and opportunities facing aviation in Africa, ATNS chief executive officer Thabani Mthiyane said in his opening speech.

“Aviation is a highly technical field, whether one is talking about the engines that power the aircraft, the materials and techniques to build them, the comfort and safety of passengers inside the cabin and, of course, the management of an airspace.

“All of these disciplines rely on bright young minds with the right skills to take them forward. We rely on the academic institutions for these graduates, and also to provide much of the research that fuels innovation,” he said.

“In light of the current developments in South Africa around exclusion from tertiary education, we need to come together as an industry to see how best we can help our colleagues in academia overcome these challenges – to ensure universities are adequately funded.”

Within the whole complex question of university funding and financial exclusion, Mthiyane added, the private sector had big role to play. “Already, private sector companies provide bursaries and other financial help to assist promising students to graduate, and I am sure that they will expand their role as they are able.

“We hear so much about the skills shortages that are holding back the economy – let’s work together to make sure we produce the skills. We have raw talent; let’s not waste it.”

Watch how the government is working on tackling the challenge of addressing the lack of transformation in the aviation industry:

The summit

barlow manilal

Mark van Wyk, entrepreneur and pilot, Thabani Mthiyane, the ATNS chief executive officer of ATNS, Tebogo Thamage, and Barlow Manilal (far right on photo), the chief executive of Technology Innovation Agency. Manilal says his agency will look at how it can offer opportunities relating to aviation and aerospace for people in rural areas, and speaks about poverty and unemployment at the Avi Awards on 28 October 2015. (Image: ATNS)

Education was top of mind at the two-day events, with one of the summit panel discussions on Thursday titled: “Aviation innovation from the perspective of tertiary institutions”. Dr Malindi Neluheni, one of the speakers, spoke about “creating sustainable opportunities within the African aviation industry”.

There was much food for thought, and attendees tweeted about the conference:

Poverty and unemployment

More must be done to address the levels of poverty and unemployment in South Africa, Manilal said at the Avi Awards ceremony on 28 October. “I believe that everything we do must create a better society for us.”

His agency would look at how it could offer opportunities for people in rural areas. “Going forward as TIA, we will look at revising most of our programmes, making sure that they are more impactful and that they give us the rewards we are looking for.

“We need to give the youth in this country hope. We need to give the youth in this country courage to dream,” Manilal said.

The TIA was established in terms of the TIA Act, with the objective of stimulating and intensifying technological innovation to improve economic growth and the quality of life of all South Africans by developing and exploiting technological innovations.

The awards

The Avi Awards were hosted by ATNS, an agency of the Department of Transport, in partnership with TIA, an entity of the Department of Science and Technology.

Overall winner Mark van Wyk has a company that is developing unmanned aircraft powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. It runs on green energy and uses hydrogen as a fuel.

“The craft is an environmental survey aircraft, so the intention of the aircraft is to do long range surveys for environmental monitoring so that our scientists and researchers can make better decisions as to how to better manage the environment and do land use planning for the future,” Van Wyk said.

It had the potential to bring down the long running cost of aviation. He hoped that in future, it would make it possible for aviation prices to go down as well as for previously disadvantaged communities to have an opportunity to become pilots or fly for personal reasons.

“I really didn’t expect to win the award. I am thrilled, I am honoured. ATNS has always been a true evangelist for aviation and a real impressionist on this country.

“Their services to the community are unique and impeccable. To be given an award by ATNS is the highest honour that I could get,” Van Wyk said.

He said he had been working with the TIA for the past nine years, and it had been supportive of his project.

Watch Mark van Wyk explain his project:

The Avi Awards 2015 were a platform to showcase and celebrate the sharpest minds and the most brilliant innovations in the country. The Department of Transport said they celebrated creativity and scientific thinking, which were critical ingredients to leapfrog Africa into first-world status.

Finalists included journalists, academics and engineers.

Source: SouthAfrica.info reporter