BizAv in Africa: Responding to Staff Shortages

With the ongoing global aviation staffing issues affecting the African Business Aviation ecosystem, how are service providers on the continent addressing the problem? Felipe Reisch spoke to a selection of local experts…

Felipe Reisch  |  07th November 2023
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    Felipe Reisch
    Felipe Reisch

    Felipe Reisch works as a public relations consultant for private aviation companies worldwide, leading...

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    Addressing Africa's Aviation Staffing Shortages


    While the worldwide pilot shortage and its impact on the growth projections of the entire aviation industry are hardly news, there are many other roles within aviation that are following the same trajectory, notably the shortage of experienced aircraft technicians and engineers, which will have an impact on aircraft owners and operators if not adequately addressed.

    Coupled with a deficiency in local training opportunities, the overall potential of the African Business Aviation industry is inevitably being affected. So how are the leading companies on the continent responding?

    Nanou Idriss, Marketing and Commercial Manager at Senegal-based ProJETS Aviation, believes that the Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) sector is seeing a considerable impact, currently.

    “Supply chain disruptions and challenges caused by staff shortages, scarcity of raw materials, price increases in inventory and labor are causing extensive lead times,” he notes. “And inflation has driven up the cost of materials and labor, placing additional strain on the supply chain.”

    Justin Reeves, CEO of Johannesburg-based Comair Flight Services (CFS) Aviation Group, thinks there are additional forces at play, including the attractiveness for home-grown talent to explore larger markets, or an increase in remote employment opportunities for local professionals being offered by international companies.

    “South Africans are sought-after workers,” he adds. “They often possess extensive experience and valuable skills, as well as a strong work ethic. And they have the advantage of being fluent in English.”

    South Africa's weak currency compared to the US Dollar and Euro also makes it very economical for international companies to employ high-quality South African workers, he says, while local workers enjoy the advantage of earning higher salaries in their local currency.

    Max Lapoire, Managing Director of Woezon Aviation, a flight support company based in Togo, highlights how in-house training is needed due to the shortage of options for local companies. “The lack of personnel trained to the specific requirements and needs of the Business Aviation sector forces the private sector to train its own staff from scratch,” he explains.

    Public-Private Training Partnerships as Part of the Solution?

    To address this issue, Idriss reckons partnerships between the public sector, private aviation companies, and training institutions should be fostered while he acknowledges that the biggest challenge is to increase the number of trained executives and attract, or even encourage, skills from higher education institutions and universities to move into the aviation sector.

    “To that end, investments must be geared towards infrastructure – specifically training infrastructure, including state-of-the-art training centers, simulator facilities, and classrooms,” he argues.

    “Governments could also create supportive regulatory environments by developing and enforcing clear and consistent regulations for aviation training institutions and programs, ensuring they meet international standards.”

    The Ripple Effect of Pilot Shortages in Africa

    As a global industry, it seems inevitable that difficulties within the airline sector would somehow impact the Business Aviation ecosystem, including Africa’s. While this is indeed the case, the unprecedented high turnover of staff, especially among pilots in African Business Aviation seems to be the main spill from the airlines…

    “This is because large American and other global scheduled carriers are offering the highest pilot salaries on record, which creates a vacuum as they attract applicants from our local carriers,” Reeves highlights. “In turn, these local carriers are forced to recruit from the private aviation market.”

    According to Idriss, as the airlines look to address staffing shortages with salary increases, “The private aviation sector is prioritizing keeping their pilots happy” to avoid an exodus of skilled pilots.

    They too are offering competitive pay and bonuses. “The competition for these pilots is so intense,” he adds, “that it is increasing the airlines' costs for recruiting, hiring, and training.”

    The ripple effect caused by the pilots opting to join the airlines is significant within the charter industry, adds Reeves. “It can take up to six months to successfully recruit a pilot for a private jet due to the shortage of suitably qualified and experienced jet pilots.

    “That’s compounded by the limited availability of instructors at simulator training facilities worldwide when our newly appointed pilots require initial type ratings or recurrent training.”

    Being Proactive in Addressing the Problem

    With various of Africa’s governments lacking adequate resources and juggling other priorities, it seems likely that the industry will once again need to lead the push to decrease its shortfalls in skilled personnel.

    Reeves worries about the reputational damage that a company like CFS Aviation Group might encounter from having insufficient or inexperienced staff, and he says it makes much more sense to invest heavily in retaining talent than replacing it.

    “We are in the process of over-staffing certain teams as part of our succession planning strategy,” he elaborates, adding that in this way the company has additional manpower available should it lose a member of a team.

    “I guess what I’m saying is that we are taking control of our situation, and don’t want to rely on the public sector to fix this,” he clarifies.

    However, Idriss believes governments have an important role to play, adding that jointly funding and operating training programs while granting financial and tax incentives to aviation training organizations and businesses that invest in training programs are necessary.

    And Lapoire reaffirms the need for cross-collaboration, showcasing that, for instance, the industry cannot enhance the business of airports without the public sector’s involvement.

    While there are many hurdles along the runway for the global aviation industry regarding addressing the skilled staff shortages, there are some low-hanging solutions that may be established quickly to improve the situation for those truly invested in succeeding within the African private aviation industry.

    One, says Reeves, is promoting aviation-specific careers, apart from roles such as pilots and mechanics, to attract more school leavers to consider a future in this industry. “Our National Qualifications Framework (NQF) has not graded any aviation-based skills, which hinders growth in the industry as individuals are unable to obtain formal qualifications that are internationally recognized.

    “I am pleased to note, however, that [South Africa’s] CAA has recognized this issue and initiated a project to specifically address this shortcoming.”

    Reeves adds that his company is actively looking for local personnel. “We are currently recruiting in our charter sales, maintenance planning, and operations control teams, as well as for multiple pilots in our jet fleet.

    “We have recently seen other operators advertising for the same positions at the same time, and the positions sometimes remain vacant for long periods of time. So it’s a good time to be looking for a job if you have relevant experience in various fields in the Business Aviation industry.”

    More information from:
    CFS Aviation Group: www.flycfs.co.za
    ProJETS Aviation: www.projetsaviation.com
    Woezon Aviation: https://woezon.aero


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