Although unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have the greatest potential to grow the South African aerospace industry, Southern African Women In Aviation (SAWIA) pilot Amanda Kandawire says the technology may reduce demand for pilots in future.
“I am not sure whether I accept UAVs in the industry with open arms, as they could in future take away my job,” she notes, however, adding that UAVs might prove beneficial in the aerospace industry.
Since UAVs are controlled either by on-board computers or by a person on the ground using a remote control, they can potentially eliminate the need for human involvement.
The SAWIA highlights that some of its members have had the opportunity to work with UAVs. “UAVs are predominantly used in military operations, but other small companies use the technology for taking aerial photographs and for the surveillance of pipelines. I personally have not had the pleasure of working with UAVs,” says SAWIA member Thabile Serepo, who is the only female licensed aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) in the South African Police Service (SAPS) and has, therefore, had to set the standard for future female SAPS AMEs.
Other challenges facing the industry include skills development, job crea- tion, funding for some projects and the empowerment of women.
Besides UAVs, other trends in the industry recognised by the SAWIA include the use of carbon fibre, since it is stronger and less flexible than aluminum, making it more reliable, while improving the fuel efficiency of the aircraft.
Serepo adds that the industry is also developing to accommodate the fast pace at which technology is developing, with most aircraft being fitted with digital gauges as opposed to analogue systems. “The systems are being developed to use electrical rather than mechanical equipment, which is making processes much easier, as fault detection is just a click away,” she explains.
Women in Aerospace
“The aerospace industry is male domi- nated and, generally, women have to prove themselves to be regarded as being equal to men,” says Kandawire, adding that a daily challenge faced by many women in the industry involves fighting for their recognition and the recognition of future women pilots.
The SAWIA is focusing on empowering women in aviation and aerospace by offering training and support groups for women in the industry. It also aims to contribute to a more equitable representation of women at all levels in the Southern African aviation and aerospace industry. “The SAWIA aims to show young women that aviation can be a viable career choice,” says Kandawire.
Serepo notes that the industry prefers to hire men for difficult or physically challenging jobs. “On the other hand, this teaches me to push myself beyond my limit,” she says.
“The most support that I have received is from fellow women aviators and SAWIA members, mainly because we share the same struggles and challenges.”
Kandawire and Serepo say some of the challenges facing the industry include a lack of funding for certain projects and youth skills development. “There is room particularly for growth in skills development related to the integration of women into the aviation and aerospace sector,” says Kandawire.
The SAWIA notes that the aerospace industry and its associated companies within South Africa are focusing on sponsoring previously disadvantaged students to further skills development in the industry.
“Sponsoring these students means helping to pay for their studies and providing them with job opportunities after they graduate,” says Serepo, adding that funding is one of the biggest challenges, as it is expensive to enter some skills development programmes, which ultimately leads to a shortage of necessary skills and, in the worst case scenario, companies closing down and job losses.
“A lot of qualified technicians are sitting at home without work, while some AMEs are underpaid for their level of expertise,” she adds.
The SAWIA highlights that there is a concern among school leavers and graduates who wish to pursue a career in the aerospace industry that the industry is not properly supported by aviators and the private sector.
“We want to reach the most unreach- able places, such as the rural areas, where people don’t have much information about aviation and the aerospace industry. We want to motivate and mentor the students who are keen on aviation,” Serepo adds.
Both women note that the aerospace industry in South Africa is generally in a good state and the country is fortunate to have demonstrated a long and proud history in aerospace innovation, research and development.
The SAWIA highlights that the South African government has supported the aerospace industry.
“The Department of Trade and Industry initiated the Centurion Aerospace Village in 2006, which is meant to serve as a high- tech advanced manufacturing, aero- mechanical and defence cluster adjacent to the Waterkloof airforce base. Recently, the Department of Pubic Enterprises addressed the issue of youth skills development, together with airline companies South African Airways and SA Express.
Meanwhile, Kandawire says the most important part of being a pilot is getting passengers to their destination safely and on time.
“One of my challenges is that I work for a regional airline,” she says, adding that when there are delays, the job can become stressful and that no two days at work are the same.
However, Kandawire points out that she is reminded how much she loves her job every day she goes to work. “Nothing beats watching a sunset at 25 000 feet,” she adds.
“Being able to perform fault finding on an aircraft, finding solutions to problems and seeing the aircraft take off is the best feeling ever,” says Serepo.