Taking Namibia to the skies

By Theresia Tjihenuna
November 2012
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Since the establishment of one of Namibia’s premier aviation academies, the local aviation landscape has been changing to accommodate more locally trained flight operators in the industry.

The Namibian Aviation Academy (NATA) has been providing practical aviation training to young aspiring pilots for the past 10 years and most of its graduates secure jobs at some of the leading airlines that operate in the country.

The academy was established as a subsidiary of the German aviation company - Dornier - internationally famous for its civil and military aircrafts.

The Dornier aircrafts are known for their reliable and safe operations. This is usually a result of comprehensive and above-standard training it provides to operational and maintenance personnel.

Dornier has also established aviation training centres on all continents and NATA benefits from the experience gained through these projects.

In 2000, former President Sam Nujoma inaugurated the NATA facilities at the Keetmanshoop Airport in southern Namibia.

“NATA’s initial training, comprising courses for private pilot licensing, night rating, instrument rating and commercial pilot licensing, has already proved its success for many years,” NATA general manager, Gernot Riedel says.

He also says 90% of the industry’s local pilots have gone through NATA’s programme.

NATA headquarters are at Eros Airport in Windhoek. Its branch office at Keetmanshoop was used until 2006 for practical and theoretical flight training.

Operations were ceased there due to inconsistent fuel supply but Riedel explains they will resume next year between February and March.

“We cannot carry out flight training there at the moment until the fuel issue is addressed.”

“The NATA facilities at Keetmanshoop are located close to the taxiway and the two runways of the aerodrome Keetmanshoop,” he says.

Riedel adds that the air space at Keetmanshoop is less busy with regard to traffic congestion making it the ideal place for training.

The academy has partnered with the Namibia Defence Force (NDF) under the Namibian Air Force to provide technical personnel with vocational training at the Eros Airport, particularly at Grootfontein where the electronic training takes place.

“We also train two groups of students under the vocational training from the National Youth Service,” Riedel says.

According to Riedel, part of NATA’s strict policy is sticking to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards. ICAO is the international body that regulates aviation industries.

“The pass mark for all students is at least 75%. This is the normal pass rate for aviation students not only locally but internationally,” he says.

When students are evaluated, Riedel explains, they have to meet all the required standards that are put in place as a lot of emphasis is put on maintaining safety.

The smallest of mistakes can compromise a student’s qualification chances.

“Sometimes a student can be good at flying an aircraft but may struggle at landing it. In such cases, independent experts are consulted to help the student master that specific exercise.

“Should the student fail, we would have to place them in another area of specialisation where we believe they will perform better,” Riedel says.

He says students should also have a good command in English proficiency of at least Level Four.

“This is particularly important for radio communicators or those who sit in the control towers,” he says.

NATA trains Angolan and other non-English-speaking students through language courses that take between two weeks and three months.

In addition, a student must at least have completed Grade 12 with a background in mathematics and physical science and undergone a psychological examination.

He says NATA does not only cater for nationals but also for students from the Sadc region.

According to Riedel, identifying the right people in the industry has proven to be an expensive exercise.

Therefore, NATA plans to recruit people from the private sector and not only from the Ministry of Works and Transport as has been the norm.

Although NATA does not offer bursaries to students, it has introduced a programme that identifies institutions such as the Ministry of Education that can do so.

“Aviation training is costly and it is for this reason that we look at different possibilities of assisting students by approaching institutions that can offer bursaries,” Riedel explains.

Being a member of the ICAO under the Namibian National Directorate of Civil Aviation (DCA), which is the local regulatory body in Namibia, NATA carries out regular internal audits to adhere to standards set by the national directorate to ensure that aviation safety is enforced at all times.

The escalating global fuel price has not spared the Namibian aviation industry.

It is one of the biggest challenges the industry faces apart from the expensive equipment, not to mention the substantial aviation fees paid to the operators and service providers.

The maintenance of aircraft, according to Riedel, is costly as the industry has to keep up with the changing trends of technology and comply with international requirements without compromise.

The real competition, Riedel states, is more on the international than on the national level.

“South Africa has plenty of pilot schools and has the advantage of huge numbers but here in Namibia, NATA is the leading pilot school in the country, but competition is healthy as it drives the prices down.”

For now, NATA aims at saturating the local aviation industry with more locally trained graduates.

“Aviation, as a career, was not a choice for many Namibians in the past but now, NATA fills that gap and we are getting there,” Riedel says.

The institution has achieved so much over the years and the satisfactory number of NATA graduates is a testament to the institution’s success. PF