As aviation continues to serve as a vital contributor to South Africa’s economy, we caught up with the country’s civil aviation authority to see how it is helping to guide the industry forwards
Writer: Tom Wadlow
Project Manager: Vivek Valmiki
Aviation is big business in South Africa.
Employing 70,000 people and contributing $7.4 billion to the national economy in 2014, the sector is a vital wealth generator and helps 22 million passengers to enter and navigate the country every year.
It is also an industry that stirs passion. “My love for aviation led me to join the industry and the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA),” says the organisation’s Director of Civil Aviation Poppy Khoza.
“The aviation bug bit me right after I finished my tertiary education, where I was studying travel and tourism. I started my career working for the South African national carrier, South African Airways, and I have never looked back since.”
Khoza has emerged as an industry flagbearer over her time at SACAA. Not only is she the first female Director of Aviation, but also the recipient of the 2018 Business Leader of the Year Award at the Oliver Top Empowerment Awards.
“The journey has been truly an exciting one,” Khoza continues, “as I have had an opportunity to contribute in changing the face of civil aviation in this country through the successful delivery of the mandate as dictated by the Civil Aviation Act of 2009.”
Investing in innovation
A key priority for Khoza, and vital part of uplifting SACAA to world-leading status, is exploration of digital technologies.
The Authority kickstarted its digital migration in 2015 with the procurement of a new enterprise business system (EBS), a software solution designed to improve aviation safety and security across South Africa.
“This is a comprehensive, fully integrated electronic business solution which spans across various functional areas of the organisation and improves business processes for our clients, as we eventually become paperless,” says Khoza.
“The system is compliant with ICAO standards and recommended practices and will ensure that the SACAA’s business processes are aligned to those of the international aviation administration body.”
The project is set to complete imminently, and modules already installed have already received positive feedback from users and recipients of licenses, which include pilots, air traffic controllers and cabin crew.
Another step towards becoming paperless involves swapping printing licenses on paper to a card-based system.
Transforming industry dynamics
Not only is SACAA playing a leading part in digitising South Africa’s aviation industry, it is also working to make it a fairer one.
“Aviation was regarded as an industry for those with deep pockets and as a result remained elusive to previously disadvantaged communities,” Khoza explains.
“This is evident when one reviews the statistics of aviation personnel such as pilots and aeronautical engineers. Currently there are less than 10 percent black (African, Indian and Coloured) pilots in South Africa. Similarly, there are only a handful of black aeronautical engineers.”
This has prompted the SACAA to start creating awareness of careers in aviation at grass roots levels, especially within previously disadvantaged communities. Every year the Authority visits around 400 schools and engages with 20,000 pupils in a bid to deliver knowledge to areas that otherwise would remain isolated from this career path.
“In the last three years, the SACAA has annually funded the training of more than 30 young South Africans, primarily female students from economically deprived households, who aspire to become aviators,” Khoza adds. “These students are enrolled for studies and training in various fields, including aeronautical engineering, cadet pilot training, and aircraft mechanics.”
SACAA has also been a keen contributor to the government’s National Civil Aviation Transformation Strategy, which proposes practical and sustainable solutions to the current slow pace of transformation in the civil aviation industry.
“This is the course we cannot neglect as it is critical in terms of building the pipeline for the next generation of aviation professionals in our country,” Khoza continues. “We need to work on this aspect and be resolute in our endeavours to ensure that no youth is left behind if they so wish to advance a career in aviation.
“Women representation also lacks, so this will be a priority as we focus our energies towards transformation. For example, we hosted the first ever Global Aviation Gender Summit.”
A sustainable flightpath
Another key mandate of the SACAA is to manage the environmental footprint of South Africa’s aviation industry.
The organisation recently coordinated efforts to submit to the ICAO a State Action Plan on limiting carbon emissions, and represents the region on the ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection.
“Besides providing technical expertise, the SACAA also provides voluntary assistance with the aviation environmental protection work done by ICAO,” adds Khoza. “In April this year, we hosted the first-ever ICAO African environmental seminar to be conducted in Southern Africa.
“Because we realise that sustainability is not only important for us but for the entire African region, we also volunteered to assist Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Lesotho with the implementation of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).”
Closer to home, the Authority organises and runs numerous workshops with airports, with topics covered including handling of noise complaints, balancing land use planning with aviation growth and establishment and maintenance of environmental management programmes. Workshops with airlines mainly focus on implementation of CORSIA.
Already the number one ranked in Africa in terms of aviation safety audits, South Africa is one of few nations to improve its ranking despite stringent ICAO methodology and standards.
For Khoza, building on this solid foundation is critical if the organisation is to rise to global prominence and compete with the world leaders in aviation.
Her target is to reach the top 10 in the not too distant future, and an upcoming audit in 2019 represents another opportunity to demonstrate further progress.
She concludes: “The key focus of this audit will be on effective implementation, and it is for this reason that South Africa welcomes and is looking forward to it. South Africa aims to improve the country’s current status of 81 percent, and the SACAA has embarked on a process of reviewing its regime and correcting any deficiencies identified.
“I know we still have a long way to go but looking back I am quite pleased to see the progress we have made to make SACAA a credible institution counted among the best in the world.”