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A New Aviation Generation

November 22, 2017

Attracting the best new minds to aviation is key if the global aviation industry is to capture the massive opportunities of the future. Nowhere is this more crucial than in Africa.




Aviation thrives on the ingenuity and skill of the people in the industry, from the flight crews to the ground crews, the IT boffins and engineers to the customer service reps – and the senior management teams.

Many people outside the aviation industry still see jobs in aviation as glamorous. That image is a huge asset when seeking to attract talent, but relying on aviation’s past glory isn’t sufficient. Nowadays, there are newer, shinier industries with which aviation must compete: IT start-ups, biotech, robotics. These are the cutting-edge industries innovating for the future. As Millennials move into the workplace, its necessary to better understand what will attract these bright young minds of tomorrow to the aviation industry.

Innovation is the number one company trait sought by the Millennial generation, and is also the element Millennials feel is lacking the most in their current employer.

This is a massive opportunity for aviation, which can more than hold its own against other innovative sectors. The industry’s track record of technological innovation, growth, and adding value to the communities of the world is unmatched. But perhaps it needs better exposure – for example, by airlines offering internships to young talent or airline executives going back to their alma matas to give motivational talks to inspire young students.



Aviation is the life-blood of the global economy. It supports 6.8 million jobs, and 72.5 billion in GDP. In Africa, close on 70 million people travel by air every year. Aviation, therefore, helps to bind Africa together, and it takes African exports to the world: fresh agricultural produce, manufactured goods, and creative and cultural endeavours. What’s more, there is extraordinary growth potential for aviation in Africa and, to a large extent, realising this potential relies on governments in Africa implementing the necessary policies.

Currently, African airlines are not in a healthy financial state. This year, while the global aviation industry will make a profit of US$31.4 billion, African airlines will lose US$100 million [this would be far worse if it wasn’t for Ethiopian Airlines’ US$273  million profits]. For every passenger an African airline flies, it will lose US$1.50, whereas, in North America, the industry’s current profitability standard-setter, airlines make more than US$16 per passenger.

There are some external economic and geo-political factors that have buffeted Africa in recent years and which have affected aviation, but there are also many issues which governments and industry, working together, can control, namely safety, connectivity, smarter regulation and financial health. Fixing and continuing to focus on these four issues will enable African aviation to innovate, grow, and attract the best of the next generation of workers.



Last year, sub-Saharan Africa had its best safety performance in 10 years, with no passenger fatalities or jet hull losses. The overall accident rate, however, is still higher than the global average, so there is still much work to be done, and the industry must adopt a mind-set of continuous improvement to maintain last year’s notable achievement.

The IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) is a key tool for airlines and governments. The 33 sub-Saharan airlines on the IOSA registry performed 7.5 times better than non-IOSA operators over the 2012-2016 period. Through the International Airline Training Fund (IATF) and also working with AASA, IATA is assisting many African airlines to achieve IOSA registration. Governments can help by incorporating IOSA into their airline certification process and implementing ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS). 



If airlines are to grow and help to generate the jobs of the future, then developing intra-African connectivity is essential. Unfortunately, connectivity across Africa still leaves much to be desired. It is still often easier to connect between two African cities via Europe, than travelling on intra-African routes.

The benefit of opening up Africa’s skies and improving connections across Africa are considerable and have long been recognised. The Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD) set out a vision for intra-African connectivity, but implementation has been slow.

IATA research revealed that between 12 of Africa’s largest markets, passenger numbers would increase by five million per year, leading to a significant uplift in trade, tourism, jobs and economic development. In South Africa specifically, it would mean US$284 million in extra GDP and 14,500 more jobs.

The people, entrepreneurs and businesses of Africa are missing out on their full potential by the failure to get behind the YD. While there has been some progress over the past two years, with 22 States committing to full implementation of the YD and over 50 new intra-African routes being launched, politicians and industry need to act in cooperation to make the YD vision a reality. The imminent launch of the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) by the African Union has great potential, but it must not be allowed to become another talking-shop.



The recent proliferation of new taxation regulations across Africa, such as the tourism tax in Tunisia, have placed an undue burden on aviation’s ability to act as a catalyst for economic and social development. IATA’s Smarter Regulation principles offer a toolkit for policy-makers considering growth-supporting policies for aviation and these need to be actively promoted with governments.

The issue of financial health is also vital. Airlines cannot grow and invest if they are losing money on their African routes. For example, fuel costs in Africa are 21% higher than the global average. Some African governments are even blocking the release of the funds airlines obtain from their ticket sales. These blocked funds issues are increasing, and carriers are facing currency repatriation problems in nine African countries.



Having set out some of the things that need to be done to ensure African aviation is strong enough to grow and be able to invest in tomorrow’s workforce, what are the key things that airlines should be focusing on to attract the Millennial – and soon, Generation Z – employees of the future?

The World Tourism Forum Report points to two particular areas where aviation has both a challenge and an opportunity: digital innovation and sustainability.

As mentioned, aviation has innovation in its DNA, but airlines have not yet maximized the opportunities presented by the digital and internet revolution, and which come from understanding the ‘big data’ generated by the four billion passenger journeys made each year.

This situation is, however, changing. Programmes such as IATA’s New Distribution Capability will make it possible to personalise journeys by providing new products and services. And passengers will be able to shop and compare these options more easily across different airlines.

Over the past 18 months, IATA has held a number of innovation workshops, or ‘Hackathons’, to attract digital wizards from start-ups and big business, to look at how the New Distribution Capability (NDC) standard can be leveraged to make this new future possible. Radical baggage solutions through to passenger data and identification are other areas of the industry that offer a wealth of job opportunities to today’s tech-savvy workers.

In terms of sustainability, in early October, the aviation industry gathered in Geneva for the ninth Global ATAG Sustainable Aviation Summit. Over the years, this summit has tracked the industry’s progress on its carbon commitments. This year, it took the issue further by also looking at the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).

According to an IATA report, aviation has an important role to play in 15 of the 17 SDGs, which include everything from alleviating poverty to improving the position of women, to education and clean water. In some of these areas – notably the gender balance of women in senior management – airlines can do better.

Increasingly, everyone, not just the younger members of the workforce, needs to feel that the work they are doing has a moral or ethical purpose. The pure pursuit of profit is not a way for businesses to attract and retain top talent, especially with the next generation. By explaining the role aviation plays in the SDGs, airlines can show that they have a wider role in society and social development.

Having said that, it is climate change that is still the major concern for many Millennials. On this issue, airlines can hold their heads high. No other business sector has been so proactive in setting tough targets for its carbon use, nor in setting out a roadmap and strategy for achieving those targets.

Thanks to collective efforts within the aviation industry, the governments from around the world at ICAO last year agreed on a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, called CORSIA. This will help the industry meet its goal of Carbon-Neutral growth from 2020. In line with CORSIA, all airlines will have to start reporting their fuel use and emissions from 1 January 2019, so there isn’t much time to get the correct monitoring, reporting and verification measures in place.

Longer-term, the worldwide target for aviation is to reduce emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2050. This will require new technology, better and more efficient infrastructure, and the deployment of substantial amounts of sustainable aviation fuels.

Governments can help with these elements, particularly by ensuring air traffic management networks are made more efficient, and by incentivising sustainable aviation fuels in the same way they do automotive biofuels.



Attracting tomorrow’s talent is not about making promises on shaky foundations. It is about getting the fundamentals right. Aviation is no different. If the aviation industry can secure its future by growing its ability to connect, by ensuring financial health, and by committing to a sustainable future, then it will be in a strong position to capture the best of today’s bright and entrepreneurial workforce.

With air travel demand expected to more than double in Africa over the next 20 years, attracting young talent to the industry in Africa is crucial.


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