There is no doubt that the general aviation space has accelerated post-pandemic as airports, airfields and GA facilities ramp up operations. But a closer look at the fundamentals reveals a rising tide of challenges that threaten the growth of the sector and its long-term sustainability.
Walking away from an industry conference well fed with a few business contacts added to your list might tick a few boxes for a successful day out of the office. However, when you leave a conference with a view to sitting down and taking a hard look at your business and its operating environment, that’s the real measure of success. The Smoke On…Go! GenAv Conference 2023 in the NAC hangar at Lanseria was certainly such a gathering.
According to JP Fourie, NAC CEO, South Africa is considered Africa’s leading aviation nation and a shing light on the continent. The reality is that we’re a microcosm of a much larger universe. Of the estimated 400,000 GA aircraft operating internationally 2,200-2,400 operate in the South African market – 0.5%. Yet we operate more aircraft than the rest of the Africa combined, and at current levels, we’re not at 35% of the aircraft deliveries we saw in 2008/09. As an opening gambit for a conference, that will get your attention.
The discussions on the state of play of general aviation from a legislative, service provider, operations and business point of threw up more challenges and opened the door for continued communication between Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS), the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), airport operators and GA businesses that operate within a highly regulated and compliant framework.
Turning to aircraft sales and financing, the discussions inevitably centred around the currency. In 2011 a Piper KingAir 250 cost USD5,385,00 escalating to USD6,390,000 in 2021, an increase of 9.5%. In rand terms that aeroplane went from R38,686,050 in 2011 to R88,118,100 2021 an increase of 127% thanks to the rand devaluing from R6.63 to R13.79 over the ten years. We’re now at R18.50/USD so this problem is getting worse every time the loadshedding stage increases or Pretoria shakes hands with the Kremlin.
The theme of escalating costs continued into the discussion on the development of human capital in general aviation particularly pilot training and development. It costs over R2million to train a pilot to a CPL and little exists in the way of bursaries and loans without clearly defined career paths ensuring the borrower can repay the loans. Flight schools are busy as communicated by 43 Air School, Loutzavia Flight School, Sim Aero and Skyhawk Aviation but the number of local students falls far short of the international intake. A testament to the quality of the institutions, but a red flag for the state of general aviation.
The seeds were planted, networking opportunities developed and robust discussions held at a conference where delegates understood, a lot more clearly, the true obstacles and opportunities facing their businesses in the GA sector.