SAA’s new pupil pilot intake all from previously disadvantaged communities


That South Africa’s national airline is taking cockpit demographics seriously can be seen from its final selection of 40 new pupil pilots – all from historically disadvantaged population groups – chosen from more than 5 200 hopefuls.

“As a State-owned company, SAA is pleased to announce this during Youth Month (June) when the airline reflects on initiatives that focus on the country’s youth to empower them in acquiring the scarce and critical skills required in aviation,” South African Airways spokesman Tlali Tlali said.

SAA’s cadet pilot development programme is the airline’s effort to transform not only its own but also South Africa’s flight deck community, which is nowhere close to reflecting national demographics, he added.

The group of 40 started their training at 43 Air School in Port Alfred on Monday with 14 months of theoretical and practical training en route to their “frozen” Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL). After this it’s three years internship for those who make the grade.

The Eastern Cape flying school has been operating for 71 years and is widely acknowledged as a top training institution for pilots be they private, military, general or civil. Flags in the recreation area at 43 bear testimony to this running from A (Australia) all the way through to Z (Zimbabwe).

The 40 who made it to final selection from a shortlist of 271 are African (10 male and four female), Coloured (nine male and one female), Indian (seven male and two female) and seven white females.

While the 40 have made it this far there is no guarantee those who eventually qualify will find work in either the left or right hand front seats of SAA’s cargo or passenger aircraft.
“Enrolment into the programme does not guarantee future employment with SAA,” Tlali said, adding the pool of future pilots coming through via this programme would also benefit other local airlines.

In August last year, SAA’s pilot recruitment came under scrutiny after it was reported that white applicants were being rejected across the board when applying for the cadet programme online.

SAA spokesman Kabelo Ledwaba told Beeld at the time that the cadet programme was being advertised online as an initiative to bring pilot demographics in line with the country’s broader demographics. “Only 15% of SAA’s pilots are currently black, and this includes Indians and coloureds. The rest are white, and 91% of them are men.” Ledwaba said the airline would appoint male, white pilots when there were vacant posts for which applicants of other races could not be found.

Shortly afterwards, SAA’s website was changed so that applications from white men would not be automatically rejected.