Women Soar To New Heights In SA's Airline Sector

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South Africa's safety rating in the airline sector is highly regarded, as it exceeds the global average. Despite this achievement, there are fewer women in high ranking roles in the sector, but two South African women have broken this barrier.


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At the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) event held in 2022, former Transport minister Fikile Mbalula revealed that South Africa is maintaining a Category 1 status in a safety index conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is the highest safety rating possible.

South Africa’s aviation sector is not only the safest in the world but history was made in this industry when the South African Airways (SAA) announced an African woman pilot and first officer will be joining its ranks for the first time in 88 years.

SAA revealed that the duo was Captain Annabel Vundla and first officer Refilwe Moreetsi during a press briefing.

At this briefing, Vundla, who was managing fatigue risk at the airline, said it hasn't been easy but it's worth all the hard work.

When talking about her passion for aviation, in an interview with Careers Portal, Vundla shared that seeing the Boeing for the first time made her wonder how it managed to stay up in the air and later had thoughts of how it would be so great for her to fly it one day.

Fortunately, the pilot was technically inclined and taking up Mathematics, Science, Biology, English, Afrikaans and Geography during her high school years also came in handy.

There are many skills needed in aviation in order to be a successful pilot. Some of these skills include:

-The ability to fly an aircraft: This is the most basic and essential skill needed in aviation. Pilots must have the knowledge and ability to safely operate an aircraft.

-Aeronautical knowledge: Pilots must have a strong understanding of aerodynamics, aircraft systems, and weather patterns in order to safely fly an aircraft.

-Communication skills: Pilots must be able to effectively communicate with air traffic control, other pilots, and passengers.

-Critical thinking and decision making: Pilots must be able to make quick decisions in order to avoid danger while flying an aircraft.

Vundla trained in the South African Air Force in 1999 and qualified in the year 2000. “I trained on the Astra Pilates pc7 as a pilot and instructor.” said Vundla.

This indicates that it took the Captain two years to go through training that mainly involved basic military training.

So, what is an average day as a Captain? 

“I get up 2 hours before my flight , if I am not already up to prepare my kids for school,” said Vundla.

This is followed by her looking through the flight bag , including weather, etc and preparing for her flight. 

Additionally, she meets the rest of the crew and prepares the aircraft for passengers. 

According to a 2021 study by the Aviation Institute of the University of Nebraska, less than six percent of pilots at the world’s leading airlines are women.

But Chief executive and director of SACAA Poppy Khoza said there still are many challenges within the industry for women and black people, such as gender inequality, transformation and, in general, recovering after the pandemic, as well as the reduction in aircraft accidents.

It is for this reason that Moreetsi has encouraged young girls to continue persevering and know that their dreams are valid. 

“If this is a career you would like to follow, it is possible. Your gender and your race are not a barrier.” said Moreetsi.

In 2022, the Transport Department announced that in its partnership with the Aviation Authority aviation will be introduced as a school subject to give learners basic training on motor skills.

The airline industry increased to 87.39%, surpassing the global safety standard's average of 69% with ease since 2017.


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