Despite support at grassroots level from organisations like the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, the environment in the aviation industry is not yet enabling for women, according to Refilwe Ledwaba, founder of the organisation Women & Aviation.
Apart from being a social entrepreneur, she is a qualified helicopter and fixed-wing pilot, and passionate about aviation youth development and women empowerment in Africa.
“Women are not given opportunities in positions where they would make strategic decisions in the aviation industry,” Ledwaba told Fin24 on the side lines of the AviaDev aviation development conference in Cape Town on Friday.
“Less than 3% of CEOs in the global airline industry are women, for instance. A lot of women work in HR (human resources) in the aviation industry and I am not saying that is not a good career, but there are not enough women in strategy positions, otherwise they would be seen at aviation events like AviaDev.”
For her the small percentage of women attending an event like AviaDev shows that the industry is still dominated by men.
“That makes it so important to get more women exposed to taking part and making presentations at aviation events,” said Ledwaba.
She suggests that one should start at grassroots level to inspire girls to take subjects like maths and science – to equip them for careers in the technical side of the aviation industry.
“Unfortunately, there are still not enough role models for girls in this regard. At the same time, men are still getting used to women being able to be as good as they are in the aviation industry, while many women still have a perception that they cannot be as good as men in the industry.”
She was given the opportunity at AviaDev to share the stage with three young “AviaDev Ambassadors” – young people in the aviation industry in SA.
“If we do not innovate, there will not be any companies left to innovate for,” said Ledwaba. “It is very important to start inviting young leaders in the industry to platforms like this to discuss future solutions for challenges in aviation.”
Future of aviation
Some of the other “AviaDev ambassadors” also shared views on the challenges in the industry.
Kutloana Sebetlela, one of the young AviaDev ambassadors, said many companies do not properly invest in their pilot development plans.
“We are faced with the need to train better pilots faster by using better training systems,” she told the audience.
“It is very important to ensure the vetting criteria for candidates for pilot training select the most suitable candidates. Employees must also be equipped with the best data to make sure they can stay relevant.”
Kgomotso Mokwena, another one of the young AviaDev ambassadors, explained that Africa has only 3% of the air traffic in the world. She emphasised that two important challenges to address are to create increased air connectivity and explore the contribution secondary airports can make.
The third young AviaDev ambassador, Shingai George, suggested airlines look into how it can reduce fuel usage, and therefore fuel costs, by removing certain items from the duty-free selections on planes.
He also suggested that the African aviation industry works together to develop a carbon emissions scheme more suitable for the continent.