18 November 2012

Tanzania: Aviation Industry Neglected but Key to Country's Economy


Recently there have been complaints from local pilots over employment of foreigners in the aviation indutsry.

Sunday News Reporter Finnigan wa Simbeye interviewed Professional Association of Tanzania Pilots Deputy Secretary General, Ahmed Ahmed who is also an aircraft technician and flight instructor, excerpts...

Captain Ahmed, give us a brief background of Professional Association of Tanzanian Pilots (PATP)?

Professional Association of Tanzanian Pilots is a not for profit body whose members are Tanzanian civil aviation pilots in the country. The association was started by pilots with an objective of advancing members' interests including looking for employment for its members and contribute ideas to the government and other concerned parties for the improvement and growth of the aviation industry in the country.

How do you describe the state of the civil aviation industry in the country at present?

It's not healthy it needs government assistance and cooperation of private companies which are mostly owned by foreign investors. This industry is very important and to give you a small example, a single qualified pilot in this country who is fully employed pays between Tshs 1.5m and Tshs 3m as pay as you earn to the government per month.

What do you mean exactly?

Civil aviation is a very important industry to this country's economy just like shipping or tourism but it has not been given the deserved attention. There are several problems including lack of local training facilities, regulations which makes difficulty for the locals to access jobs. There is a need for Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority to effectively ensure that new breed of local pilots are being assisted so as to be able to get a fair share of jobs in private airline companies as well as state owned airlines.

Why we don't have enough pilots?

The cost of training locally is very expensive it may cost between 17 and 20,000 US dollars for a private licence. For the same cost you may train a pilot to a commercial single engine in United States, Uganda or South Africa. This is because their cost have been lowered by exemptions given by the state in fuel, navigation fees, landing fees for training aircraft and the government in return covers its cost indirectly by foreign students flooding in those countries for training, we should also consider the same approach as those countries are taking. There is a need for the government to assist or offer grants, soft loans so as to be able for these private schools to increase their capacity to cater for both local and international markets.

What is wrong with training our pilots abroad, I thought that would help improve the quality?

Mind you the training syllabus which is used in our local flying school is international and literature used is also international. There is nothing that differentiate us with the one they get abroad. We have locally trained pilots who have bought there own aircraft and use them privately.

Many members of PATP were trained by either the government through TCAA or privately by their parents, why are the local private airliners operating in the country not doing the same?

There are two different scenarios which have to be understood. There is an initial training for commercial employment, the minimum requirement is a commercial licence. And for advance operation you need to have instrument rating and multi engine knowledge is being sponsored by the TCAA, privately by parents and on rare occasions, by airlines like once it was done by Precision Air, a good example. After this initial training, a student pilot has to undertake another training on specific type of aircraft such as Boeing, Dash series, Fokker and Cessna caravan before they can qualify to fly them.

This training is normally funded by the operator themselves and they are very expensive costing up to 30,000 euros each. Because of this hiked cost and the poor business condition prevailing in the local market, most operators prefer to employ those who can foot such bills on their own.

What should TCAA do to improve this state of affairs?

TCAA has initiated and has already put in place a training fund that facilitates training of pilots and technicians although in very small numbers. The authority should also consider few privately sponsored student pilots whose parents have paid for the initial training to commercial licence single engine/instrument level to attain full multi engine instrument rating so they can be employed with airlines to fly passenger planes as such is the minimum requirement.

This training can be done locally. TCAA can advise the Ministry of Transport to put in place an arrangement to provide loans through banks or high education programme to student pilots to meet high costs of training. This should be done as a matter of urgency to tame a looming shortage of local pilots in the country.

What else can you tell our readers relating to this civil aviation industry especially the private sector?

Planes are an affordable asset which help improve your business because if you own your own plane then you can travel easily and perform efficiently anywhere in the country. Unfortunately many of our people think owning a plane is next to impossible. The purpose of this sector is the kindergarten of the aviation where people buy aircraft, use them personally for sports and so on. And from this group those interested in commercial flying are born and those who wish to become aviation entrepreneurs emerge and the commercial airline industry will develop. It is possible with this kind of mind change to have light aircraft based and owned by rural famers, business people in any region making movement much easier.

Definitely I also thought it's crazy to own a plane because of costs, what exactly do you mean?

An average used small plane carrying two, four or six people is relatively cheap compared to luxury Japanese cars and buses plying our roads which costs between 70,000 US dollars to 200,000 US dollars. A small used plane can cost as low as 15,000 to 60,000 US dollars which many of our business people can afford.

But what about maintaining such a plane and other related costs like fuel, landing costs and the like?

It's pretty affordable because planes are just like cars which also do have running costs which may differ slightly. Our biggest problem however is maintenance facilities whereby TCAA can be requested to assist aviation engineering schools in the country so that students who complete courses should be able to qualify for at least a basic licence needed to maintain or repair light small aircraft like what is happening at East African Civil Aviation school in Soroti, Uganda.

Such a move will help ease shortage of engineers and technicians to service light aircrafts and spread the services to all regions and not only Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Arusha which denies someone living in Ruvuma to own a small plane.

Why do you think people including wealthy business owners in the country don't own light planes?

Because of attitude but also fear that this is an expensive asset which can drain their accounts, it's not to the contrary owning a plane can greatly improve people's movement hence directors and chief executives can grow their businesses which further grow the country's economy.

Just go to neighbouring Kenya many big business people own planes and often travel on private light planes, why not us? People can also fly small planes within the country's borders and communicate using Kiswahili and not English.

I have personally trained Japanese students who back home their country use their local language while privately flying domestically although the commercial aviation language internationally is English by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.

In order to join your training school and do an elementary pilot course, what does one need to have and how much will it cost them for the entire course?

With the current regulation you need to be a minimum seventeen years of age, class 11 medical certificate and be able to read, speak and write English.

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