The future for women in aviation looks promising, as more women in South Africa break barriers in leading the overwhelmingly male-dominated industry.
In partnership with the department of transport, the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) will be introducing aviation as a subject in schools to give pupils basic training on motor skills – which was what they are missing up to now.
In celebration of Women’s Month, SACAA hosted a National Aviation Gender Summit to spread awareness about women’s chances in aviation and to encourage more pupils to look into aviation.
According to a 2021 study by the Aviation Institute of the University of Nebraska, less than six percent of pilots at the world’s leading airlines are women.
Chief executive and director of SACAA Poppy Khoza said the summit was not only to spark a conversation around the challenges in the industry, but to prompt questions around the role of women in aviation and their leadership within the industry.
Khoza said while SACAA was pushing boundaries and prompting hard conversations, there still were many challenges within the industry for women and black people, such as gender inequality, transformation and, in general, recovering after the pandemic, as well as the reduction in aircraft accidents.
She noted that the authority’s figures show that 89% of pilots are black people and 11% white; and 51% female and 49% male – which proved that the industry could change from being white and male dominated to being balanced, she said.
“The system by itself is already a challenge because those who were there already are gatekeeping. Those who are comfortable with the status quo will make sure you don’t get a chance,” she added.
“And that’s why we say we need more support from government and the private sector to make those opportunities available and accessible [to women and blacks].”
The SACAA licence demographic shows that at least 567 blacks are currently registered as student pilots, while 100 are coloured, 104 Indian and 1 515 white.
“So, in essence it’s 10% black students, 2% coloured, 3% Indian and 85% white when you combine the student pilot, private pilot, commercial and airline both for aeroplanes and helicopters,” she added.
SACAA’s Phindiwe Gwebu agreed with Khoza and said their main interest was making sure they had technically capable women and not just support, “so we train them at SACAA”.
“From a business perspective, we have compiled a strategy for the department of transport to champion the support and empowerment of black businesses in aviation, in a way that is sustainable and successful,” she added.
She said officials were “crisscrossing the country from rural areas to farm schools”, to instil the message at grassroots.