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Pretoria - The inclusion of previously disadvantaged individuals into the aviation industry is a critical imperative for the country’s transformation, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the launch of the Pilot Cadet Training and Development Programme for South African Airways (SAA) and South African Express (SAX), the minister said the inclusion of the those that had been previously disadvantaged was necessary to fulfil the orders of the Constitution, which require the country to not only recognise the injustices of the past but to redress them.

“The Cadet Pilot Training Programme, which was developed by SAA in 1994, was an initiative aimed at redressing the imbalances of the past and meeting statutory transformation targets. Since the programme’s inception, there has been steady but slow progress in ensuring that those required targets are met,” said Gigaba.

Senior captain at the national carrier, Mpho Mamashela, started an aviation awareness programme for the country’s previously disadvantaged groups and also established SAA’s cadet pilot training programme, which was closed in 2006.

To date, the programme has processed a total 246 cadet pilots, 166 of whom have successfully completed training and are currently absorbed within SAA and SAX.

“Despite these developments, we still have a huge imbalance between the country’s demographic structure and that of our pilots, which does nothing to comply with the Constitution’s injunction to reverse the injustices and heal the divisions of the past, and create a society based on social justice,” said the minister.

Gigaba said that there have been complaints about the programme.

“Some in our country have complained that SAA, for example, is recruiting 33 black cadet pilots and only seven white cadets. Statistics indicate that SAA has 793 pilots and out of these 667 (85%) are white and only 124 (15%) are black (Africans, Coloureds and Indians put together),” he noted.

Between 1994 and 2012, SAA has trained 190 black cadet pilots compared to 51 white cadet pilots.

For SAX, out of a total 255 pilots, 208 (81%) are white and only 47 (9%) are black. There are 47 black cadet pilots and SAX has 123 white captains and only three black captains.

Mango has 84 all white pilots.

With regard to gender equity, of the 793 SAA pilots, only 70 (8%) are female, while SAX has 10% female pilots among its 214 pilot population.

Since 1994, the national carrier has had 60 female cadets compared to 181 male cadets and 48 of those successfully completed training, compared to 118 male cadets that also successfully completed training.

“These statistics highlight the blatant fact that the rate and levels of transformation in this sector has been taking place at a painfully slow rate, and that there is critical need to increase the pace of transformation to address the significant levels of demographic and gender imbalance that are embedded in the aviation sector.

"Through the launch of this programme, the three state-owned airlines – namely, SAA, SA Express and Mango – will now strengthen their role as engines of economic growth in our developmental state, and as leaders in the transformation of the aviation sector in order to strive towards reflecting the diversity of the country in the skilled echelons of their workforce,” said Gigaba. –