Windhoek-Previously disadvantaged pilots claim they are being systematically victimised by private players in the local aviation industry. It is no secret that the Namibian aviation industry has been dominated by whites since and before independence, which is clearly visible in the fact that all flight charter companies as well as the three registered flight schools in the country are owned by whites.
An example of the victimisation is the minimum flight time requirement for commercial pilots, which currently stands at 200 flight hours. However, previously disadvantaged pilots allege that most black pilots are required to have 250 flight hours before they are considered for a commercial pilot licence. This is 50 flight hours more than their white counterparts require. Black pilots claim it is extremely difficult to secure flight time to increase their hours.
Previously disadvantaged pilots also allege that all white trainee pilots are able to secure jobs even before they complete flight school and that up to 90 percent of pilots working in the country come from outside Namibia. In stark contrast, there are more than 10 black pilots who have been sitting idle without jobs for years. Some have resorted to starting side businesses that are in no way related to their qualifications. In addition, it is alleged that some black pilots earn as little as N$5 000 a month in comparison to their white counterparts, whose starting salaries are in the range of N$20 000 a month.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, one qualified commercial pilot admitted that while the national carrier, Air Namibia, is doing a fair job in recruiting black pilots, it cannot absorb all qualified black pilots. This responsibility, he said, should also be placed on the shoulders of private charter companies.
“However, I must say that Air Namibia is doing a good job because they are employing more and more black pilots, even though black pilots do not have the level of exposure to the industry as their white counterparts do,” said the concerned pilot.
Another qualified commercial pilot commented: “White pilots definitely have the advantage. If you look at the statistics you can clearly see that many more white pilots are employed. There is a large gap that shouldn’t be there. You apply for a position for which you are turned down only to see a foreign pilot get the position, while you have more experience and more flight hours,” said the pilot, also requesting anonymity.
The pilot also claimed that private charter companies have massive profit margins while local black pilots are being paid “peanuts” and in many cases are asked to pay for their own accommodation and incidentals while flying tourists to private lodges.
A third pilot, who also wished that he not be named, said he recently quit his job at a private charter company for paying him a basic salary of N$4 800 a month. “As long as there are people who stand up and talk then we can rectify the situation,” he said.
A local female pilot, who is also currently sitting without work, said securing employment in the industry is not easy, not only for previously disadvantaged pilots but for all pilots. “There are strict requirements and it is difficult to fulfil these requirements without support. What we need is more support from the industry,” she said.
Questions sent to the Directorate of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Home Affairs more than a month ago to verify statistics of the number of pilots employed in the country have gone unanswered. Also, comment from private charter companies had not been forthcoming at the time of going to press.