Inspiring Young Africans’ Interest in Aviation

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Chinedu Eze
A young African woman from Cameroon, Fadimatou Simo was the winner of this year’s International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s Diversity and Inclusion “high Flyer” award during the Association’ Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Seoul, South Korea.
Simo won the award for inspiring young Africans, especially women to develop interest in aviation with her Young African Aviation Professional Association (YAAPA) located in 54 countries in the continent. She said her award is for young aviators in Africa.
According to her, she has used the association as vehicle to inspire and encourage young Africans to develop interest in aviation as the industry grapples with dearth of manpower. It is projected that by 2037 the world would need several thousands of pilots, aircraft engineers. Africa may not meet the need of the technical personnel for its airlines.

“I am founder of the Young African Aviation Professional Association with the headquarters in Cameroon. We have representatives in the 54 states. It is a group of volunteers passionate about aviation who want to build bridges, exchange about the best practices that we have across the continent and the infrastructure that we have to train the generation of African aviation professionals as well as promote tourism within our African countries,” she said.

Simo noted that globally, women are beginning to occupy high positions in aviation, some are pilots, engineers, schedulers and others but in Africa, the opportunity for women in the sector is not very high as obtained in other regions.

“First we have to understand that in our African culture, the female child has always been given a secondary position. But that is gradually changing through the different activities to raise awareness on gender equality and methods put in place to encourage the female child to go to school. So, it is our belief that with the current situation, seeing us, for example, and a lot of role models that we have across Africa like the Poppy of the civil aviation in Nigeria, Refilwe Lebwada of Girl Fly Africa in South Africa Yvonne the CEO of Rwandair. We have the former Minister of Aviation in Ghana. These are emerging figures that stand up as role models to make us believe that the change is gradually on the way and we will get there,” she said.

On airport infrastructure, manpower development, Simo said that all African countries are not at the same level. She said some have recorded greater development than the others, adding that it would take some time before some African nations catch up with the ones that have currently advanced in building modern airport and have elaborate training programme for aviation development.
“I will like to differentiate the sub-regions. One thing that we need to know is that there are gap differences that exist within sub-regions. Southern African countries have better developed infrastructure that can accommodate the tourism growth and passenger growth. Western English speaking countries are on the rise also. We recently saw the modernisation of Ghana airport, Nigeria also with airport infrastructure that has been constructed. But all these smaller countries really rely on the expertise of others when we want to Africa countries sharing their strategies, best practices on how they became modern.

“We look at Togo, we see the infrastructure of their airport transforming as a hub. We want to see multiplication of such actions and we believe that since the same actors are walking around Africa, most of the expertise from Northern Africa will come down to Western and Central Africa as well as Southern and East Africa. So, with the support of the African Union in putting aviation in the centre of its agenda 2063, we basically believe that even if we will not immediately see the infrastructure development, because it does not come overnight, we are in the process of improving our infrastructure and getting the know-how to facilitate growth in Africa,” Simo said.

On dearth of technical manpower in the aviation sector in Africa, Simo said airlines in the continent should assist pilots to type rate, engage fresh engineers that will have a platform to horn their skills. She also suggested that countries should grant permit for aviation personnel to freely move from countries of saturation to the ones where they are in demand.

“We have been making underground studies and exchange with young aviation professionals in Africa and the sad thing is, because of the development of aviation in different countries, we found some countries that have saturation of manpower and we found others that do not have manpower. We have been pleading and engaging with African Union to sit with the heads of states or to implement exceptional work permit for aviation professionals so that this can enable the countries with saturated professionals to freely work in other countries to sustain growth,” Simo said.