Ismaeel Khan is training to become a pilot.
Ismaeel Khan is training to become a pilot.

Student pilots still hope to take to the skies

By CHARLENE SOMDUTH Time of article published Jun 26, 2020

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DURBAN - Students pilots remain optimistic they will land their dream jobs despite widespread retrenchments at global airlines because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

But an aviation expert believes students need to have a second career option because the future of the industry remains uncertain. 

Phuthego Mojapele, an aviation expert, said that as pilots lose their jobs globally, the industry would be saturated with experienced pilots. 

“This is going to make it difficult for newly-qualified pilots to tap into the industry. Private companies and other airlines would rather employ experienced pilots than those fresh out of flight school.”

Mojapele said a number of South African pilots went to the Middle East to work at airlines like Emirates because local airlines were not employing. 

“We will see them return to South Africa due to the job losses. It is important, especially during this time, that student pilots have another career to fall back on. It will be difficult to land a job. I got my pilot’s licence in the United States. To get it, I had to get a degree in another field. I chose to study television broadcasting and now I run my own business – Mojapele Productions.”

Mojapele said pilots could spend more than R150 000 trying to get their pilot’s licence.

“There are three stages. First, you get your private pilot licence, then your commercial licence and lastly your airline transport pilot licence. The latter is for when you want to join an airline.”

He said normally to practise flying for an hour cost about R1 600. 

“A  pilot needs over 2 000 hours of flight experience before being considered for employment. Right now we cannot predict when travel will return to normal. It all depends on when a vaccination for the virus is found.”

Mojapele said people were afraid to fly and were not prepared to take chances.

Ismaeel Khan, 21, of Westville, is studying towards his commercial pilot’s licence at a flight school in Durban North. He believes the aviation industry will recover.

In 2017, after matriculating from Westville Boys’ High, he enrolled at the flight school and a year later he obtained his private pilot’s licence.

“As a child, I was fascinated with planes and flying them. My family and I regularly travelled to Cape Town by plane to visit family and these trips further sparked my interest.” 

As Khan grew older, he began researching the aviation industry and decided this was the career path he would follow. 

“To work for the bigger airlines like Emirates or South African Airways, I needed a commercial licence with over 2 000 hours of flight experience as well as my Airline Transport Pilot Licence. I am still working towards achieving this.”

Khan said while a future in the industry currently looked bleak, he was hopeful this would change. 

“There is always a demand for air travel. We might be in a crisis now but in two years things will change. Fortunately for pilots, we can venture into being flight instructors or doing charter flights. These are flights not allocated to an airline but are done for private flights. We have options.”

Another pilot, who is a few months from obtaining his commercial pilot’s licence, was also optimistic airlines would recover. The 27 year old, of Durban, who declined to be named, said he dreamt of working for an airline like Emirates or Qatar Airways. 

He said these airlines were among the leading companies in the industry. 

“When I was little, I received a toy plane as a gift from a relative. I was fascinated by it. My parents told me pilots flew these planes and I was amazed. I found nothing else as interesting so I knew this was the job for me.”

He said he spent more than R100 000 on training and training needs to accumulate more than 2 000 hours of flying.

“But we must remember it is not going to be like this forever. We will recover. Once I get my licence, I am going to do charter flights before trying for my  Airline Transport Pilot Licence.”

He said from his interaction with other commercial pilots there was a possibility that airlines would stabilise financially by next year. 

“And hopefully, by 2022 they will recover fully from the travel ban. Once this happens, they will employ more staff and this will be my opportunity to be employed.”

He presently works in his family’s supermarket and construction company. 

“If things don’t go well for me in aviation, my back-up plan is to work full-time running either one of these businesses.”

He said students and those recently qualified should focus on gaining more flight experience so that when jobs became available, they would meet the credentials to apply.

The South African Pilots Association had not commented at the time of publication. 

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