JOHANNESBURG - The South African aviation industry contributes more than R74billion to the economy and supports 350000 jobs within the airlines, airports, grounds and auxiliary levels.

However, today’s aviation environment in South Africa and the greater continent is more challenging and competitive than ever. If ever there was a time for the continent to redefine the aviation sector as a powerful tool for socio-economic development it is now.

While this is no mean feat, one businessman in South Africa, Javed Malik, co-founder of PAK Africa Aviation, has demonstrated that he is equal to the task.

The secret behind his never-say-die-spirit? Highly innovative, resolute and an entrepreneur to a fault with a knack for turning challenges into opportunities.

Malik was on November 3 appointed to be the inaugural co-chairperson of the newly formed Regional Aviation Working Group of the South African chapter of Brics Business Council (SA-BBC).

This was at the SA-BBC meeting in Cape Town, presided over by Dr Iqbal Survé, chairperson of the SA-BBC and founder and chairperson of the Sekunjalo Group.

Malik’s passion for aviation started when he was a child. He brings unparalleled experience to the role, having spent 10 years in the aviation industry.

Being a charismatic and energetic aviator, he is known for his deep-rooted relationships in the domestic and global aviation industry.

Malik is also an authoritative writer about South African aviation, politics, travel and the tourism industry. He is also a champion of transformation and economic justice in the domestic and continental aviation industry.

In this wide-ranging conversation with Independent Newspapers, Malik unpacks his vision. 

How do you view your appointment as co-chairperson of the newly formed Regional Aviation Working Group of the SA-BBC, and how do you see yourself shaping the domestic aviation industry into the future?

This is a wonderful, if humbling, opportunity for me. I would like to thank Dr Iqbal Survé, the chairperson of the SA-BBC and his team of directors and executives for the confidence bestowed upon me.

We will work with utmost dedication to set the tone and benchmarks for future activities.

I believe that my experience, education and networks in all realms of the aviation industry will assist my team and I in improving efficiencies, standards and advancing the innovative environment of the industry.

Together we will ensure the industry keeps pace with the continental and global markets.

What about synergies between Brics countries?

Within the Brics nations we have shining examples to follow South Africa regarding key developments in aviation. Fellow Brics nations have made remarkable progress in terms of infrastructure and operations models.

Consider the following examples:

Brazil

Embraer began with regional aircraft and military Coin aircraft, and has advanced into the business jet market to the extent of opening a factory in Florida. It will follow Airbus and Boeing in launching a re-engined version of its E-Jet airliner family. It has big ambitions, too, in military aerospace its Super Tucano light attack aircraft was selected by the US for supply to the Afghan Air Force.

Russia

The country is historically an aerospace technology leader. The Soyuz rocket remains the only way the astronauts of any nation can get to the International Space Station. The country has recorded a degree of commercial aviation success too and has the MC-21 to rival Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX.

India

The country has a joint project with Russia to build stealth fighters and is also planning to develop its own unmanned drone.

China

Among the global leaders in its ARJ21 will likely be used mainly by Chinese or close allies of Beijing. Its civil airliner, Comac C919, with state of the art Western systems and equipment is a pacesetter. China will train the bulk of its pilots in South Africa. The country will need 5000 pilots annually over the next 20 years.

South Africa

Our aerospace industry is known for its innovative solutions.The country has two original equipment manufacturers: Denel Dynamics and Advanced Technologies, which produce unmanned air vehicles and missiles. We also have aerostructures and aircraft component manufacturers (Saab Aerostructures and Aerosud) and some small manufacturers of sports aircraft and gliders. There are also companies manufacturing avionics and sensors.

Surely this augurs well for South Africa and greater Africa, doesn’t it?

South Africa, and greater Africa’s aviation industry, holds great promise for expansion. We need to exploit this opportunity and encourage the private sector to be fully involved and address the issue of connectivity on the continent. We need to do this before this market is completely taken over by non-African carriers.

What will be the primary focus of the newly formed Regional Aviation Working Group within Brics Business Forum?

The working group will integrate and provide critical economic links for growing the aerospace sector. Remember, aviation is a catalyst for economic growth, intra-continental trade, poverty alleviation through job creation.

Our primary focus will be to bring together leading representatives of the aviation sectors representing government authorities, airlines, aerospace industries and service providers.

We want to start and maintain strategic dialogue on the prospective aviation matters among the Brics countries. We will hit the ground running to commission a market survey that will look into the experiences and competencies of the Brics bloc.

Our goal is to develop a strong sector in both passenger and cargo transport among Brics countries. Working together we will promote joint ventures on establishing maintenance, repair and operating facilities. We will also promote secondary airports and the balance of traffic rights agreed in the underlying bilateral agreements among Brics member states.

Safety and security matters within the aviation space of Brics are of paramount importance. This is further made crucial by the new and emerging threats to human lives, goods and services. As the working group we will ensure enhanced co-operation, sharing of ideas and continuous enhancement in this area.

What about skills transfer and transformation in aviation within Brics nations in general, and South Africa specifically?

In South Africa’s aviation sector 95percent of the people are male and white. Women are mostly found in semi and unskilled levels. Recent government statistics show that out of the 793 pilots currently employed by South African Airways only 70 (8percent) are female. Of the 214 pilots employed at South African Express only 21, (10percent) are female.

As the working group we will continue to champion transformation in the domestic aviation industry to ensure the inclusion of more young people, women and intermediate skilled people. The barriers of entry to the professional and technical realms of the industry must be broken down as we seek to increase the meaningful engagement of black, previously disadvantaged, female and young people in the technical occupational levels. Working together with our counterparts in Brics we will make a contribution to correct these imbalances of the past and ensure the production of skilled personnel to meet current and future demands.

Coupled with that we will exchange knowledge and resources regarding technology and innovation to ensure skills development. This is not just within the human capital space, but also in research and development, innovation and development of world-class, cutting-edge products. In collaboration with the other working groups within Brics, we will focus on ensuring continuous education and training. The private sector and educational institutions across the Brics bloc shall be encouraged to come on board with formal and informal training opportunities, exchange programmes, internships, bursaries and apprenticeships.

How does this dovetail the National Development Plan?

Youth and women empowerment are key imperatives of the NDP and as a working group we will make this a key priority.

We have discussed this with Dr Survé, and he has assured us of his full support as we pursue the journey of meaningful transformation.

It is a cardinal priority for all sectors of the economy. If it does not happen we will not only see our industry, but the whole country deteriorate.

In conclusion, let us dispense with the questions on everyone’s mind. Our investigations from various key executives in the aviation space revealed that you are nominated to join Mango Airlines as chief executive.

We found that all of the recruitment and auxiliary processes have been concluded and you are the front runner.

Could the industry, once again, be falling into the trap of looking outside when there are highly qualified, experienced and talented individuals locally?

What, in your view, is holding up the process of making the official announcement?

I wouldn’t like to comment on the question you have raised. I think that matter is best left with the authorities who are handling it. They are in the best position to respond to your question.

- BUSINESS REPORT