The National Aerospace Centre (NAC) reports that it is planning to expand its skills development programmes by deploying them at more universities throughout South Africa to ensure the growth of skills development in the industry.
NAC acting director Philip Haupt says the centre plans to continue creating human growth opportunities within the aerospace industry.
“The objective is to train local students at global standards. We want to keep these skilled students in the country so that they can contribute to the local aerospace industry,” he says.
The NAC is a national aerospace-focused centre offering a programme that is supported by the Department of Trade and Industry and managed and hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), in Johannesburg. Currently, the company hosts skills devel- opment projects at Wits, Stellen- bosch University, the University of Cape Town, the University of Pretoria, the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Johannesburg.
The centre forms part of a network that aims to develop skilled people for the aerospace industry in South Africa.
The NAC was founded in 2007 and aims to develop skills in line with the needs of the South African aerospace industry. The centre engages with government, industry, academia and research institutions – locally and internationally – in promoting sector competitiveness and developing human capital.
“The projects conducted by the NAC are ongoing,” says Haupt, adding that the centre focuses on scholarships for undergraduate and postgraduate students.
“We have been running post graduate scholarships for six years in partnership with Euro-pean aircraft manufacturer Airbus and we plan to continue our relationship with the company,” he says. “The scholarships ensure that the students are provided with the relevant practical and conceptual skills to contribute to the South African and global aerospace industry.
“Airbus pays half of the fees of each masters and PhD scholarship student, with the NAC paying the other half,” Haupt says, adding that the scholarship is awarded to students at universities throughout the country, provided that the institution offers engineering as a degree choice.
Further, Haupt highlights that the aerospace industry cannot exist in isolation. Therefore, the NAC works with government and other aerospace companies to ensure the overall success of the industry.
The NAC understands that the technologies and innovations being developed worldwide are relevant to the local industry and must be considered for South African projects. “We must fit in with global trends to be relevant,” he says.
However, Haupt highlights that the local aerospace industry is moving toward better effi- ciency, using advanced materials, and lighter-weight vehicles, as they are more economical.
“Titanium, which is a lightweight and exceptionally strong metal, has become a focus, especially considering the fact that South Africa has the second-largest titanium reserve outside Australia,” he says.
The NAC notes that further investment has been made in fuel cells and battery technology to improve the abilities of aircrafts. Haupt mentions that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming more viable as technology is improving.
“There has been a move towards using UAVs, particularly in sectors that do not require human skills or influence, or in environments that present potential dangers to humans,” he says.
Haupt describes the structural aerospace industry as healthy and strongly supported by government. “There is room for the industry to grow and government is taking the development of the industry seriously because of its potential applications in society.”
The NAC notes that, compared with the mechanical sector or other sectors in South Africa, the aerospace industry is small. “Although the country’s aerospace industry is long-standing, for instance, we have the second-largest air force in the world,” he says.
“The aerospace industry does not adapt as often as the automobile industry, for example. We are constantly changing and adapting, but the progress within the industry is gradual,” says Haupt, noting that the NAC is always trying to push technology and innovation within the sector.
Meanwhile, Haupt notes that one of the challenges facing the aerospace industry is consolidation, which can be problematic. “The aerospace industry is fragmented,” he says, therefore, government communicates with other governments to formulate a global outlook and, although this can be time-consuming, it ensures that its contribution to the industry is relevant.