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Airport Cleaner Gets Wings

Nokuthula Mchunu, 37, a former airport cleaner, is on her way to realising her dream of becoming a commercial pilot.

Now a student pilot at Focus Air Flight School in Durban, she encourages people from previously marginalised groups to join the aviation industry.

Mchunu, from Lamontville in KwaZulu-Natal, worked at Durban International Airport and while mopping floors observed the operations and pilots. At home she read about aviation, which helped her understand the many available careers in the sector.

“After my cleaning job I got a job at Air Mercy Service working as a flight co-ordinator. The more I understood about the aviation sector the more I fell in love with it. Through my experience, I want black youth to be inspired and know that it’s possible to do flight training,” she says.

Mchunu believes that schools and community leaders have a responsibility to organise career days and workshops to expose pupils to sectors like aviation.

“Learners must be encouraged to dream big and not be limited to traditional careers,” she says.

After completing her studies Mchunu aims to fly corporate jets.

In April, transport minister Fikile Mbalula expressed concern that people from previously disadvantaged backgrounds are still a minority in the aviation sector, with Africans, coloureds and Indians representing 11% of licence holders and white licence holders representing 89%.

“This needs to change. The statistics must reflect the racial demographics of the country,” he said.

Mchunu says the imbalance is due to people, mostly from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, being unable to afford to pay the fees of flight schools. She urges those who can’t afford fees to secure funding.

Mchunu is one of the student pilots who needs funding to complete their aviation studies. 

“I come from a disadvantaged background and flight training is expensive. However, like the other students, I am not letting my background stop me from achieving my dream,” she says.

There are many career opportunities available in the aviation space such as piloting, engineering, mechanics, airport operation, aircraft manufacturing, avionics mechanic, airfield operations specialist, airport manager and transportation security screening.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) says as aviation is largely technical, grade 12 pupils who have an interest in it need a strong background in mathematics, physical science and engineering.

It says even though most aviation-related careers need subjects related to science and technology, those who do not have this background can still enter the field and pursue careers such as aviation law, aviation safety and security and environmental management.

Available funding

  • SACAA offers bursaries in the areas of piloting, aeronautical engineering and maintenance engineering. For more information visit:


or follow SACAA on social media.

  • Air Traffic and Navigation Services SOC Limited (ATNS), an entity of the department of transport, offers funding for those who want to study to become an aeronautical information management officer, air traffic services officer or air traffic control officer. ATNS has three programmes per year. When the programmes open for applications, information is available:




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