Battle for talent as over-40s dominate aviation industry - expert

Significant jobs growth is forecast in the aviation industry, but the challenge will be finding and nurturing new talent, Vees Lochan, chief operating officer of the Airline Association of Southern Africa said on Friday.

"Aviation is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. By 2037 the population of Africa will increase by the size of the present population of China," he said at the annual general meeting of the Airline Association of Southern Africa (AASA) hosted by Air Austral in Reunion.

The 2019 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook, released earlier this year, estimates that over the next 20 years the aviation industry in Africa could need 29 000 new pilots, 27 000 new technicians and 30 000 new cabin crew.

But, said Lochan, the industry currently needs a new influx of talent. "The aviation industry is dominated by a generation of individuals over the age of 40," he said.

Although training initiatives aimed at creating a pipeline of new aviation professionals on the continent do exist, these are not always effective, in Lochan’s view.

He said factors leading to the shortage of and increased demand for aviation professionals include the retirement of the current generation of aviation professionals; aviation professions not appearing attractive enough to potential candidates; the competition from other industries for those skilled employees in the aviation industry; and insufficient training capacity to meet the demand.

High costs, high exodus

Challenges include funding for training; and the high cost of training.

"Furthermore, there is an exodus of skilled aviation professionals to greener – or rather ‘sandier’ – pastures to meet demands there," he said hinting at African aviation talent going to work for Middle Eastern airlines.

"Our aviation industry needs an action plan. We are all good talkers and good presenters, but we fall short on implementation," he cautioned.

Asked about rumours that there are plans to increase the retirement age of pilots in Africa, to help deal with challenges, he said he is not aware of any such plans.

"I think the retirement age of pilots is left to individual airlines to decide," he responded.

In the view of Thys Serfontein, president of air solutions at the international association of aviation telecommunications (SITA), the young generation is already tech savvy. So, it is not so much about creating technology skills as about making sure the current work force can keep pace with changes by reskilling.

"There is a next generation in line. They must just be able to be innovative enough and not repeat the mistakes we have already made. It is the transition between the generations that is the challenge," he said.

Passenger traffic is expected to double by 2037 in southern Africa and technology is shaping the industry because it is technology which drives customer satisfaction, in his view.

"Where are we heading to the world of 2030 where everything is connected, biometrics are routine, data creates value and operations are highly automated," he said.

"Internet connection will be cheap, fast and available everywhere, including in the air, making trusted identity and biometrics programmes an essential feature."

Fin24 is a guest of AASA at its AGM.