43 Air School (Pty) Ltd is one of the biggest flying schools in the Southern hemisphere and has four campuses, including a recent expansion into Portugal. Executive Chairman and CEO of 43 Air School Pty Ltd, Attie Niemann has 40 years’ experience in the aviation sector and was a former Operations Director of National Airways Corporation. He has been involved in all sectors of aviation training and is also a former military fighter pilot. He believes the coronavirus crisis represents a challenge to the whole pilot training industry.

To get a better understanding of how South Africa’s flight training providers are faring, Alsim Simulators’ export manager, Mr. Nicolas de Lassus, spoke to Attie Niemann.

Nicolas de Lassus (NdL): How has 43 Air School adapted its business for the crisis?
Attie Niemann (AN): We had invested heavily in distance learning and online products to enhance our training well before COVID, but of course the actual flying aspect was the key challenge.

NdL: What specific measures are in place to ensure the safety of your students and instructors?
AN: We have a very comprehensive COVID policy that is driven daily, but some regulations suggested by industry proved hazardous like flying with a face shield etc. Serious safety issues had to be risk assessed in this regard and regulators were looking at industry to provide leadership in this regard and that is exactly what we did.

NdL: How do you think the epidemic will modify travellers’ habits?
AN: My personal belief is that human nature has a seriously underestimated ability to adapt and invent ways of getting around challenges, to get new ways of getting things done to a level of comfort we had before. The frustrating part is the time factor, which is the biggest problem with COVID-19 as it happened so fast. Already we are seeing solutions and problem solving that pioneers’ better ways of doing things than before.

NdL: Can we consider that this crisis represents an opportunity to the sector to change and invest in new ways to train future pilots? What kind of innovations would be interesting to introduce in training programs?
AN: Absolutely, virtual training, automation and AI solutions are already a reality and will play an even bigger role in an accelerated way into the future.

NdL: Considering the challenges your students have been facing, what is the Government doing to help you and the aviation sector in South Africa?
AN: We have bigger challenges as a country than aviation training, but as the numbers show so far despite some challenges South Africa and our Government and authorities have managed the virus as well as can be expected. The private sector is now starting to play a bigger role in helping Government and only through joint efforts will it be successful.

NdL: How do you think the pandemic will affect South African airlines? Will they all survive?
AN: South Africa will survive despite what is been said. Believe me, we have been survivors for nearly 400 years, don’t underestimate our people’s ability to solve problems and innovate.

NdL: What would be your advice to cadets wanting to start their career now?
AN: Aviation is going to come back stronger than ever and you just have to look at the potential of EVTOL and online freighter growth and some other technology shifts that will still require pilots for a long time to come. Hotels and ships are not going to disappear so the tourism industry will recover, but it will take time. That time is now, and it is ideal for all potential aviators to get ready for the next wave of growth in aviation. In three to five years we will be discussing resolving the shortage of pilots not the oversupply.