Ermias Bariagabr, 45, is busy fulfilling his biggest childhood dream – flying an aeroplane. While undergoing a high-risk medical procedure to remove a tumour from his neck, Ermias went through a life changing experience, which gave him a sense of urgency to accomplish goals, given the uncertainty of life. Joining a flight school and becoming a pilot was at the top of his bucket list.
But at his age getting accepted into the most renowned flight school in the country, the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy was unrealistic, as pilots are required to retire when they turn 65. Instead, he opted to join a newly established private pilot training school, East African Aviation. This company represents a new trend, where the private sector, albeit at a nascent stage, is engaging in a once exclusively state dominated industry.
Worldwide, the aviation industry requires 25,000 qualified new pilots every year. As one aviation expert put it, there is an ever increasing need for aviation personnel in today’s globalised world where travel for pleasure or business has become a way of life. This also means an abundance of job opportunities in the field.
Where there is demand, there is supply and private training schools are emerging to ensure that supply.
Established in 1999 as a general aviation service provider, Abyssinia Flight Services expanded its operations by setting up the first flight school in Ethiopia in 2006. Since its establishment, the school has trained over 119 pilots and 54 pilot trainees are currently enrolled, Solomon Gizaw (Cap.), Managing Director of Abyssinia told Fortune.
Tapping into a regional demand for pilot training centres in East Africa, Abyssinia Pilot Training School provides its services to students from Ethiopia as well as those from neighbouring countries such as South Sudan, Kenya and Rwanda, Solomon noted.
At present the school uses nine aircraft for its training programme, relying mainly on Cessna 172s and Diamond DA40 models as its primary workhorses. There are 12 permanent instructors, Solomon said, adding that the school has recently established a rented dormitory for its students and provides shuttle services to and from the airport. Solomon hopes they will soon build their own facility to host their students. In addition to training pilots, Abyssinia has also started providing trainers’ training, its managing director disclosed.
Though not equipped with the ultra-modern full-motion glass cockpit simulator, Abyssinia provides its students with regular non full-motion simulator and computerised practice facilities, Solomon continued. Students are required to pay as much as 55,000 dollars for a course of training that may take as much as a year and a half. On successful completion, they are certified to obtain either a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) or a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) with instrument and multi-engine ratings, he further explained.
Abyssinia may be the oldest flight school but it does not have a monopoly on training aviators.
For just over 60,000 dollars, East African Aviation, the newest private pilot training school, provides its students with 14 months of flight lessons, equipped with a 2015 model full-motion glass cockpit simulator for training. For practical flight training there are two Cessna- 172s, which have less than 1200 flight hours, Mulat Lemlemayehu (Cap.), managing director of the company told Fortune with pride. Established in 2014 with a total capital of 85 million Br including the price of the latest addition to their fleet, the King Air 350, which cost 2.6 million dollars, East African Aviation is aiming to fill the market gap in the region.
East African Aviation is currently training 10 students from Ethiopia and South Sudan and Congo with three instructors and is making final preparations to train 30 students from Congo Brazzaville as pilots, Mulat added. Additionally, nine students from the same region have signed up to take a dispatcher training programme offered by the school. Airline dispatchers plan and control flights from the ground.
Pilot trainees at East African Aviation receive dormitory accommodation at the company’s building, get full medical insurance and two sets of uniforms. Courses of study include Aerodynamics, Weather, Navigation, Weight and Balance, Dangerous Goods and Aviation Security, among others Mulat stated.
The recently acquired King Air 350 aircraft, can transport two patients, providing air ambulance services at 35,000ft, travelling at a speed of 480km/ hr. The aircraft, Mulat added, can land and takeoff on short-range gravel runways and has the flexibility to alter its interior from a regular passenger seater to a medevac setting in less than 45 minutes. East African Aviation aims to provide its services to Kenya and destinations as far as South Africa, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
Established by seasoned pilots who have between 3,000 and 27,000-flight hours experience, East African Aviation is cooperating with the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) to secure its Air Operator Certificate (AOC) for general aviation services, a process that takes around three months to complete. The company so far has passed multiple inspection phases by the ECAA and is now finalising the demonstration stage. Demisse Gizaw, director of Air Operator Certification & Surveillance Directorate at the ECAA, noted that East African Aviation will be issued an AOC once the five-phased inspection process is completed.
For a company to be certified as a pilot training school, it needs to go through five consecutive phases of evaluation: pre-application, formal application, documentation, demonstration and certification. Each stage has its own benchmarks that must be strictly met. These have been set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations specialised agency. Once a student completes the required number of flight hours and theoretical course training, ECAA conducts a conceptual exam at its offices and a practical flight examination by a designated pilot, Hailu Iguale, director of Aviation Personnel & Training Organization Certification directorate at ECAA explained to Fortune.
Ethiopia, as a signatory country to ICAO, adheres to strict global standards in technical and academic requirements for establishing pilot training centres, Hailu added. In addition to meeting international standards, other challenges are faced by the few existing private pilot schools in Ethiopia. Among them are difficulties in fulfilling local directives and regulations designed to ensure safety and implemented by the ECAA, and the huge capital required to establish such schools, Hailu noted.
To date, the Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy is by far the oldest and largest aviation-training centre in the country. Its aviation-training department was established way back in 1956 and offers comprehensive training in various occupations in the field of aviation. Over the years, it has continued to supply not just Ethiopia’s flagship airliner, but also airlines from the length and breadth of the African continent with highly skilled aviation personnel. More than 9,000 aviation professionals from 40 different countries have thus far graduated from Ethiopian’s aviation training centre ever since its inception, reports show.
As part of its Vision 2025, Ethiopian’s Academy aims at enrolling 4,000 students each year to become “the most competitive and leading aviation training center in Africa,” its vision statement reads. The academy has adopted this ambitious vision in light of local, regional and the wider international context where demand for aviation experts is registering sharp increases every year.
Meanwhile, for students of East African Aviation such as Alazar Mulugeta (22), who have formerly received aircraft maintenance training from Ethiopian Airlines Aviation Academy in airframe structure, private pilot training schools provide customers with an alternative to standard training services. He hopes after successfully completing the training programme, he will have employment opportunities within the country or elsewhere.
With four of their graduates already working for Ethiopian Airlines, Abyssinia Pilot School’s managing director believes the private schools and the country’s flagship airliner are working rather collaboratively to fill the huge gap in producing highly skilled aviation personnel.
As the number of private pilot training schools is slowly increasing, Hailu cautioned prospective students to distinguish between ICAO certified training programmes and those which are not certified, as the state regulatory body recognises only ICAO certified programs.
In light of the huge market demand for trained aviation personnel and pilots in particular, private flight schools and general aviation service providing companies should be encouraged, commented Goitom Abebe, director of Security and Facilitation Directorate at ECAA. He attested that though there is always room for improvement, private schools in Ethiopia (to their credit), provide international standard services to their trainees.
Lucy Kassa, Fortune Staff Writer, has contributed to this article.
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