Aviation Training In Africa: Positioning For The Future

MONDAY UKOHA Headlines, Highlights, Magazine, Magazine - Cover Story, News, News Updates

By Dr. Yakubu Ibrahim, Technical Coordinator, AATO

The Current State of Aviation Training in Africa

Africa’s aviation industry is on the cusp of significant growth and development. As the continent continues to experience economic expansion, urbanization, and increased connectivity, the demand for air travel is poised to soar. Africa requires more than 60, 000 pilots, technicians, cabin crew to meet its manpower requirements. Boeing predicted that more than 600,000 pilots, maintenance technicians, 800,000 cabin crew members will be required to operate the global commercial fleet. The commercial fleet will be doubled by 2041 to nearly 50,000 aircraft. To meet this burgeoning demand and ensure the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of African aviation, it is crucial to focus on aviation training programs. Positioning African aviation for the future requires a comprehensive approach to aviation training that addresses the challenges and opportunities unique to the continent. I will be answering to the points mentioned below from African Aviation Training Organization (AATO’s) perspective. AATO is saddled with the responsibility of establishing and implementing the frameworks required for the provision of effective training by African aviation institutions consistent with international standards.

Challenges in African Aviation Training

While Africa has made significant strides in aviation over the years, the training sector has not kept pace with industry growth. African aviation training institutions face a range of challenges including limited resources, outdated curricula, and a shortage of qualified instructors. As a result, many African countries rely on foreign training providers, which can be costly and may not address the specific needs of the African aviation sector.

Aviation Manpower Shortage In Africa

Africa is currently facing a growing concern regarding the shortage of aviation personnel. However, it’s essential to recognize that the situation regarding aviation manpower in Africa can vary significantly from country to country. While some countries may have made progress in addressing these challenges, others may still face serious shortages.

One of the most significant concerns in African aviation is the shortage of qualified pilots. Many African countries are experiencing difficulties in recruiting, retaining and employing trained pilots. This problem has been attributed to a variety of factors, including the high cost of pilot training, limited access to quality aviation training institutions, license issues and competition from more lucrative job opportunities outside the continent.

According to AATO 2015 report, “the establishment and application of quality systems in aviation training institutions is not uniform across the various training institutions and this has resulted to different levels of efficiency in service delivery even when the course is the same. Most of the institutions have not acquired certification for quality management systems and even the Safety Management System. The inadequacies identified and the lack of quality management systems does not reflect the necessary confidence required to attract foreign students looking for quality training. “

In contrast, for example, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria trains aviation professionals yearly, however, only limited number of local or foreign aviation companies are ready to engage them for their services. The scarcity of skilled aviation professionals to replace the aging workforce is a major issue in Nigeria. With limited number of serviceable aircraft in the fleet, many Nigerian aviation professionals are forced to seek for employment outside the country.

Aviation industry is a regulated field, accredited training may be necessary to meet licensing or certification requirements. However, many African approved training organizations (ATOs) training programs (i.e., licenses) are not accredited by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Civil Aviation Authority (CAA UK), or European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Thus, those courses without accreditation can impact aviation professionals’ employment options after graduation in today’s competitive job market. One of the main drawbacks of non-accredited aviation training program is the lack of formal recognition. Some aviation employers and institutions may not consider non-accredited training as equivalent to accredited programs, which can limit graduates career prospects and opportunities for further education. However, faced with scarcity of experienced aviation professionals, airlines operators are engaging pilots with foreigners’ license to  fill the gaps in their workforce. This approach can provide short-term relief, but it is not a sustainable solution and can lead to a drain of resources from the continent.

To bridge this gap, I suggest that African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and AATO should come up with a policy stating that, ATOs courses should be accredited by at least by one of the agencies mentioned above. This will allow African license holders to work with foreign companies operating in Africa. Furthermore, the ratio between pilots Captains and pilot- in- training should be addressed.  The age limit of pilot-in-training should be lowered to accommodate young aviation professionals. The CAA of a member state should be able to know how many aviation professionals were trained by an aviation company operating in that state. This is to make sure that the aviation company fulfilled its corporate social responsibilities to train young aviation professionals to bridge the gap in the workforce.

The shortage of aviation training facilities and institutions in Africa has hindered the development of a skilled workforce. Aspiring aviation professionals often have to travel abroad for training, incurring significant costs and contributing to brain drain. Brain drain may also be attributed to regulatory challenges. Inconsistent or outdated regulatory frameworks in some African countries also hinder the development of the aviation industry and the growth of a skilled workforce. These challenges are a result of unfriendly environment including high cost of operations and limited tax incentives or lack of good working condition. Initiatives such as investing in aviation training infrastructure, offering scholarships, and establishing partnerships with international aviation organizations should be explored to mitigate the shortage.

The shortage of air traffic controllers is another critical issue. Overcrowded airspace is predicted to double in the next two decades and inadequate air traffic control services could lead to safety hazards and operational inefficiencies. Recruiting and training qualified air traffic controllers is a challenge faced by many African countries.

Manpower Gap in African Aviation

To address the projected growth of air travel in Africa and plug the manpower gap in the aviation sector, aviation training institutions on the continent must take proactive measures and adapt to the evolving needs of the industry. According to AATO 2015 report, “the current institutions provide training services based on policies and regulations established by each individual state. As a result, the curricula developed are different from one country to country. The entry requirements and the instructor requirements are also different in each country. This has led to a situation where trainees performing similar tasks undergo different training in each individual state. This makes it difficult for the trainees to be absorbed in other countries as the standard of training may not be acceptable in other countries.”

In view of this statement, the pillars of AATO are to share resources, access to international accreditation bodies and regulatory harmonization. However, the report also stated that, “there is inadequate information on the capacity of the training institutions in Africa. Information on the courses offered, training facilities and instructor capabilities is not shared among states to assist in sharing of scarce resources in Africa. The problem is compounded by lack of recognition criteria for qualification of students and instructors from other states. Other challenges include insufficient number of instructors/facilitators, limited learning facilities, logistics difficulties related to access to training centers and accommodation for foreign students.” While the statement is true, the implementation of Online and Remote Learning options in the aviation institutions can allow students across Africa, especially in remote or underserved areas to access taviation courses at an affordable price. This can bridge geographical gaps and make aviation education more accessible to students across the continent.

Peer-review mechanism and updated training curricula to align with international standards and industry requirements are necessary. This includes integrating the latest technologies and best practices into training programs to ensure graduates are well-prepared for modern aviation operations. Training centers should seek international accreditation for aviation training programs to enhance the reputation and recognition of institutions. Accreditation from organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and AATO can be valuable.

Inconsistent and differing regulatory frameworks hinder the mobility of aviation professionals and the recognition of training qualifications. Thus, achieving harmonization in aviation regulations across African countries is essential for seamless operations and training.

AATO Exchange Instructor Program (which I proposed to AATO) is designed to facilitate contact among ATOs in Africa under a set of conditions that lead to decrease in prejudice and misunderstandings among the members. This may help in breaking down barriers among culturally diverse people, eradicating prejudice and building up tolerance in the process.  For some, this exchange program may also serve as a means to export educational and economic ideologies through exchange of instructors/aviation personnel, who often go on to become Subject Matter Experts (SME) in their own states and implement paradigms learnt from the host institution.

Furthermore, AATO instructors owing to their knowledge and intercultural experience are well suited to act as links or ambassadors between the members, thus, multiplying the effect of their exchange experiences. The harmonization and standardization of aviation training programs will be noted as one which has a uniform mode of certifying the learners i.e., for pilots, flight dispatchers, engineers etc., as this may lead to AATO e-Examination framework (which I also proposed to AATO) with the collaboration of AFCAC. The possibility of production of AATO training materials or use of common training materials among the members is possible and professional licenses will be recognized by member states. Accordingly, “the institutions are however, not currently integrated with other civil aviation institutions because they have no single voice to promote their interests. This implies that the training institutions miss out opportunities available for learning and sharing in international meetings. They cannot also project themselves as one unit with one voice at the international level to promote their interest.” In view of this, AATO is here to promote the interests of aviation training institutions across Africa.

Another issue facing African aviation training institutions is that they have limited access to modern technology to aid their training program. Many African aviation training institutions struggle to access and implement modern training tools and technologies, such as advanced flight simulators and digital learning platforms due to high cost of acquiring those training tools. Keeping pace with rapidly evolving aviation technologies and ensuring that training aligns with these changes can be challenging. To encourage cost-sharing model, students in the future will have the choice to complete the theoretical part of their course in their home country and have practical training in another part of Africa, thus promoting cost saving and regional integration.

Next Generation Of African Aviation Leaders In Era Of AI, Machine Learning Etc

It is important to note that the aviation training sector is dynamic, and its readiness to embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), and other emerging technologies have evolved significantly. AI and ML will be foundational to the future of technological innovation. The readiness of the aviation training sector in Africa to train the next generation of aviation leaders in the midst of AI, ML, and other technological advancements varies across institutions and regions.

Traditional teaching methods have been prevalent in many aviation training programs in Africa. Incorporating AI and ML concepts into the curriculum may require a shift in teaching methodologies. Institutions that have embraced technology, have also adopted blended learning approaches, combining traditional classroom instruction with online resources and simulation-based training. However, many institutions still rely on outdated equipment and software, which can hinder their ability to incorporate these technologies effectively.

The adoption of innovative teaching methods, such as computer-based training, virtual reality, and augmented reality, can enhance the learning experience for students. While funding for aviation training in Africa has historically been a challenge, some institutions receive support from governments or private entities, while many struggle to secure adequate financial resources. The integration of AI and ML into aviation training requires investments in technological infrastructure, software, and ongoing updates, which can strain limited budgets. However, integrating these languages into the aviation training can save time in terms of duration of course, target specific areas of concerns such as sustainability of flight operations by optimizing routes, thus promote cost saving and improve quality of aviation training.

Institutions and stakeholders in the sector should continue to prioritize technology integration, seek funding opportunities, and collaborate with industry partners to ensure that they are well-prepared to train the next generation of aviation leaders/ instructors in an increasingly technologically advanced aviation landscape.

Addressing the gender imbalance in Africa

The aviation sector in Africa, like many other regions of the world, has recognized the importance of addressing the gender imbalance and promoting gender diversity within the industry. Efforts to promote gender equality and increase the participation of women in aviation have been underway, although progress varies across countries and organizations. Encouraging girls to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is a fundamental step in increasing the pool of female talents in aviation-related fields. There are a number of key initiatives in this area.

In 2022, IATA launched campaign “25% by 2025”, the goal of this initiative is to increase the number of aviation women in senior positions by 25%. The purpose of this campaign is to highlight the diverse opportunities available within the sector and challenge stereotypes about gender roles. ICAO’s latest survey showed that, there is an improvement of about 5% of women globally that are pilots, air traffic controllers, and maintenance technicians as of 2021. However, 4.1% is with Africa.

Many African airline operators, aviation authorities, and organizations have implemented gender-inclusive policies and practices aimed at creating a more welcoming and equitable work environment. This includes efforts to eliminate gender bias and harassment. Recognition programs and awards have been established to honor and celebrate the achievements of women in aviation. These awards help showcase successful role models and inspire other women to pursue careers in aviation.  For example, both Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines are making progress at recruiting women aviation professionals: roughly 9% of the cockpit crew are women pilots.  Furthermore, they have introduced family-friendly policies, such as flexible work arrangements, to accommodate the needs of female employees who may have care giving responsibilities. They have initiated scholarship programs and financial support mechanisms specifically aimed at encouraging women to pursue careers in aviation. These programs will help alleviate the financial barriers that may discourage women from entering the field.

While progress has been made in addressing the gender imbalance in African aviation, challenges remain. Cultural norms and stereotypes can still be barriers to women entering the industry, and more efforts are needed to break down these barriers. Additionally, the aviation sector should continue to prioritize and expand initiatives that promote gender diversity, as a diverse workforce brings a range of perspectives and skills that can benefit the industry as a whole.


No doubt, African training organisations have a huge role to play in not only reversing the trend of manpower shortage in Africa but also in ensuring that aviation professional certifications in Africa are harmonized to increase cross border acceptance of licenses and increased employability. AATO as the umbrella body of training institutions must be empowered to drive this process.

Share on Social Media