Thato Ramahele is among the pilot students who have benefited from the initiative, between Phinda Fikeni and Focus Air, to assist students with pilot lessons. Picture: Supplied
Thato Ramahele is among the pilot students who have benefited from the initiative, between Phinda Fikeni and Focus Air, to assist students with pilot lessons. Picture: Supplied

Partnership to assist aspiring local pilots to spread their wings

By Siboniso Mngadi Time of article published Oct 25, 2021

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A businessman has partnered with a Durban flight school in a bid to assist aspiring pilots to realise their dreams.

Phinda Fikeni, 25, the founder and director of Bridgewood Educational Services, which specialises in running a matric upgrade school, has partnered with Focus Air Pilot school, based at the Virginia airport, Durban, to assist students in training to become pilots.

The partnership was expected to begin next month, where students would be assisted in enrolling for a 18-month pilot training programme, without having to pay the fees upfront.

While the pilot training programme was considered costly and reserved for those with deep pockets, Fikeni said the partnership would enable anyone with an interest and passion for aviation to realise the dream.

Having started his matric-upgrade school, in 2018, with his partner – Fikeni said many students were struggling to get acceptance at universities, post-matric.

He said the partnership would offer unique opportunities to students, who would be able to extend their choices of studies and equip them to be employable.

While the programme would focus on pilots, Fikeni said there were many other opportunities they could choose within the aviation industry.

“We have established a funding model similar to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), where students can study now and pay later.

This would help them to become pilots, instructors, or join mechanics, at a later stage. The aviation industry has been very hard to enter, especially when you come from a disadvantaged background. The stats reveal that South Africa has about 12 000 pilots and only 7% are blacks because of the historic imbalances,” said Fikeni, who is also a qualified teacher.

Durban businessman Phinda Fikeni and his business partner Mzwakhe Sithole have partnered with Focus Air pilot school to assist students to acquire pilot training. Picture: Supplied

Explaining the duration and cost of the programme, he said the programme would run for 18 months, including a ground school and 50 hours of lessons, to acquire a private pilot license.

He added that students would further be assisted to acquire a commercial licence, to make them employable.

“We want to change the narrative that being a pilot is only for rich people. We offer these opportunities to students from our school, but we take applications from anyone.

“In our school we assist pupils from rural and township schools with their matric-upgrade. But we have noted that many were struggling to get into the field of their choice, due to financial challenges.

“We believe that pilot training required decent marks and financial support for one to realise the dream.

“The job opportunities are dwindling, we want to give them skills that will make young people employable and be able to support their families,” he added.

Regarding the selection criteria, Fikeni said those wanting to apply would need a matric, with a minimum of 20 points to qualify. They would also have to submit proof about their financial status. Students would not be required to pay for the full duration, including training, but would only pay once they got employed.

The first batch of pilots were expected to start on November 1, while recruitment and selection will continue throughout the year.

“We are hoping to incorporate more funding models, so we can take as many students as possible.

“Students can take fewer hours, depending on their performance. They can also choose to be part-time,” he added.

Fathima Khan, a pilot and chief executive of Focus Air, the aviation company that Fikeni was working with, confirmed the agreement.

She said they worked in conjunction with the banks, where students would repay the loan, with a minimum interest, once they acquired the commercial licence.

“We were concerned about the lack of transformation within the aviation industry and we thought this could be the solution. We hope to attract more students, particularly the disadvantaged groups, with this initiative, which is more affordable,” she said.

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