Men still rule the skies

CityPress - - Business - MAMELLO MASOTE mamello.masote@city­press.co.za

Gen­der trans­for­ma­tion in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try is far from tak­ing off, says Zuks Ra­maisa, the gen­eral man­ager of op­er­a­tions at the na­tional car­rier, SAA.

Of the more than 700 pi­lots at SAA, only four women are cap­tains and 68 are first of­fi­cers.

Cap­tains and first of­fi­cers do the same job, but the cap­tain has the ul­ti­mate au­thor­ity on the plane.

Racial trans­for­ma­tion is also slow. It was only re­cently that the na­tional air­line ap­pointed its first black chief pilot, Eric Ma­nentsa.

Ra­maisa said most cap­tains were white and SAA was strug­gling to find skilled black pi­lots to place as deputies so there could be bet­ter trans­for­ma­tion.

Co­mair, which con­trols and runs do­mes­tic flights for Bri­tish Air­ways in South Africa, and low-cost air­line Ku­l­ula have also strug­gled with sim­i­lar is­sues.

Ac­cord­ing to Co­mair’s 2013 an­nual re­port, the em­ploy­ment and re­ten­tion of pi­lots from pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged groups is a chal­lenge, “es­pe­cially as the pool of suit­ably qual­i­fied per­sons from pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged groups is less than 18%, with black per­sons be­ing just over 10%”.

South Africa’s first qual­i­fied black fe­male pilot, As­nath Ma­hapa, knows first-hand the strug­gles that come with earn­ing the qual­i­fi­ca­tion and having to prove her­self to her crit­ics.

Ma­hapa, who said she had been fas­ci­nated with fly­ing since she was 13, had to fight her fa­ther to pur­sue her dream.

“I did one year in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing at UCT be­cause my fa­ther wouldn’t al­low me to fly,” she said.

“He had never flown in his life and died having never been on an aero­plane. He was not com­fort­able with the idea. It was a scary thought and it’s still a scary thought for a lot of black peo­ple,” she added.

Ma­hapa re­ceived her pri­vate pilot’s li­cence qual­i­fi­ca­tion in 1998. This meant she could fly an air­craft, but could not get paid.

In 1999, she re­ceived her com­mer­cial pilot’s li­cence. Both li­cences were from the Progress Flight Academy in Port El­iz­a­beth.

“When I started look­ing for a job, no one would hire me. No one was re­spond­ing to my CV, so I ended up sit­ting with­out a job for more than a year,” Ma­hapa said.

“Then I got a break. I got into the [SA Na­tional] De­fence Force in 2001, but they didn’t recog­nise my pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence so I had to start from scratch.”

In 2002, she was poached by SAA to join its cadet pilot pro­gramme.

“I was the first black fe­male there and there were peo­ple who were still re­sis­tant to move from their bi­ased think­ing. It was a se­ri­ous chal­lenge,” she said.

At SAA, pi­lots need at least 1 500 fly­ing hours, which in­cludes a min­i­mum of 200 hours on a mul­ti­engine air­craft.

Ma­hapa did any­thing she could to get those hours, in­clud­ing fly­ing in war zones.

“I flew for the World Food Pro­gramme and the Red Cross, and flew in coun­tries such as Bu­rundi, Chad, Liberia and other west African coun­tries to get my hours.”

She worked for SA Ex­press for just un­der three years be­fore mov­ing to SAA, where she has been for al­most five years.

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