File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

We need to get the basics done right or re-examine the foundation that our aviation sector is modelled on.

Also, our aviation industry such as hangars and rental spaces are under the control or being run by one group or the same people. 

This is completely against the transformation that the majority want, which is the transformation that will give reasonable space at our airports to new black entrepreneurs if we want to make genuine economic advancement.

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I believe and understand that for any single airline to make it in the South African domestic market it should have good experience, expertise and knowledge of the industry. The airline that I once co-owned, and others before us, possessed that.

But still, why has recurring turbulence been a major part of the domestic airline industry?

Playing field

In a normal world, the media should be asking these questions, which leaves me to conclude that the playing field is not level for everyone to survive, enjoy the same kind of success or compete fairly.

In the recent past I have been writing with great pain, warning the South African aviation industry that turbulence will occur if we do not look into certain things raised by colleagues concerning the industry.

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As a result, I have specifically pointed out that our aviation sector will continue to experience new airlines struggling to establish and grow their brands or may not become successful airlines, no matter how much experience and knowledge one has or no matter the modern aircraft one may fly.

Based on the above it seems there is no formula for success in aviation.

I believe that we need to listen to the concerns raised by others, especially the majority, as we seek to grow the South African aviation industry and thus the general travel and tourism industry.

As a person who has had an opportunity to work and interact with the aviation industry at large, and what we have gone through in the past as airline owners, as well as presenting papers at various aviation forums, I can speak with deeper knowledge, first-hand experience and with the view of a bigger picture.

The way I see it, it is easy to see how our aviation sector has been in such an unhealthy state due to possibilities of turbulence in some airlines, but which are man-made rather than natural.

Several factors could be attributed to the above and my observation is that there is at play negative forces and hostile businesses that make it difficult for new entries in the local aviation sector to survive.

On a broader scale, I have observed that there is no fair practice at all in the sector, and this is worsened by favouritism, as well as an uneven playing field designed to make it look unproductive and not worthwhile for new players.

The aviation industry is unique by its nature of being among the few where one has to undergo strenuous test and standards to be licensed.

The government is doing all it can to bring normalcy to a sector that is so important for job creation and economic growth.

But at the same time one quickly notices how some state-owned enterprises (SOE) such as Acsa (Airports Company of South Africa) are clearly not doing enough.

The duty of this organisation is to look after the growth of the aviation industry. However, some individuals within it have developed a passion for favouring the same people or certain institutions in the South African domestic aviation industry.

The same individuals, in my view, influence their organisation to give opportunities to the same groups of people, instead of considering new players.

However, this SOE has also failed in one of the key domestic aviation industry sectors of airport hangars and retail spaces, which in my view have the potential to add to the overall utility of our airports, especially with black businesspeople in ownership of some of these facilities.

In this instance, it has failed to bring about radical transformation. In a way it is generally working against the interests of the government’s calls and those of the majority of the people. It has practised favouritism to the detriment of broader domestic aviation interests.

I strongly recommend that Acsa should have a chief executive with a background in aviation who understands airline issues and can play a key role in bringing more industry growth. Also, someone who is a good communicator as this helps in dealing with key decision-making processes down the line and in the industry.

Young blood

Another factor needed in the South African domestic aviation industry is the need for more young blood and skills transfer, which not only must be supported to thrive, but must also answer to the needs of those in the broader society who feel neglected.

There is also the need to raise and support young pilots and airline management executives for our aviation sector.

If the industry can have programmes to train air hostesses, cabin crews and ground staff, why is there a scarcity of training for a new breed of pilots and giving them hours, blacks in particular?

I will keep on raising my hand wherever I see something going wrong. And I have a problem with self-made aviation “experts” who take it upon themselves to drive the future of local aviation.

Aviation is a unique industry.

I always debate that no matter how many years you spend watching soccer, this doesn’t mean you can be a soccer player.

The big issue, for me, is that all the airports, hangars and airport spaces owned by the same group of people do not represent transformation. It simply means that there is no space for others in the majority.

How long are we going to be so blind to allow this to happen? Making things worse are financial institutions partnering these ventures and, in my view, this is collusion.

This is because when newcomers, most often not well-connected, enter the aviation sector and seek assistance from banks, they are not given attention as the financial institutions dislike supporting companies that will compete with their interests.

We need strong leadership in our domestic aviation industry to bring about the real change we want, to clean up the mess and build a better working environment.

Traditional leadership will not work in this big mess. We need fearless leadership that can stand up against all odds and that doesn’t care about report cards to make unpopular decisions in favour of domestic aviation.

In my view, industyr leaders always worry about their careers or the next big job.

Consultants

This group of experts is not being effective, in my view, when it comes to the lasting survival of new players who may have entered the domestic aviation space. It is like their value is not being felt and, as a result ,not worth the weight they seem to have.

I have experienced that these so-called consultants are failing to offer sustainable direction that can take the South African aviation industry with new players forward and be successful.

It seems the input and impact of these consultants are far from becoming a reality. In short, they are not effective.

South Africa’s domestic aviation sector is being hijacked by one group of people. And nobody is raising a voice against this trend, which is not good for broader growth in the aviation industry.

Javed Malik is the former chairperson of Skywise Airlines and chairperson of PAK Africa Aviation.