Windhoek-Air Namibia’s acting managing director Mandi Samson says the national airline’s commitment to gender equality within aviation is a vital step towards not only creating a more gender-inclusive Namibia, but also a more prosperous one.
She made these comments in recognition of this year’s celebrations towards International Women’s Day.
“It is fitting that the theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) 2017 is ‘Be Bold for Change’. The battle for a more gender-inclusive world is the responsibility of every industry. IWD recognises, as do we, that the potential women offer to economies across the world must be nurtured and developed,” Samson added.
Tourism in Namibia is the third highest contributor to GDP. The country is a popular tourist destination with tens of thousands of jobs directly and indirectly related to the tourist trade.
To fully exploit the economic potential of the tourism industry, the involvement of women is critical.
“Air Namibia is keen to encourage more women to enter the aviation industry. The potential growth rewards for both their personal careers and the national forecast are impressive, with aviation being an integral part of Namibia’s future economic development. Currently, the aviation industry is perceived as predominantly a male domain. This deters women from pursuing careers in a sector which would benefit from equal representation,” she said.
Aviation remains an elite profession in Namibia. However, it is yet to fully embrace the government’s commitment to gender parity.
Across state-owned enterprises and other sectors such as banking, health, law, and the military, women are already playing pivotal roles.
A greater visibility of women in aviation as they command aircraft and take up other vital positions will deliver a strong message both inside and outside Namibia. It will encourage young girls to see beyond traditional female roles and to utilise their own skills to play an important part in the country’s economic development, she said.
A fair representation of women in Namibia’s aviation industry would also issue a psychological message to the world that the national carrier of Namibia is committed to equal representation.
“There are several reasons why women are still underrepresented in Namibia’s aviation industry. The perception that the sector is dominated by men is one important psychological reason for the relatively few number of women pursuing aviation as a career, but there are others. For instance, there is an economic barrier to training for many women.”
“Pilot training is an expensive endeavour and, for the purposes of career progression, requires attendance at a reputable flight school.
“These economic constraints contributed to discouraging women from pursuing a career path in aviation in the past,” she added.
“In addition, the career trajectory naturally takes time, with a significant number of years passing between entry level and flying our largest plane at command level,” said Samson.
“Air Namibia has created an explicit career path for all pilots within our airline. They are first employed as first officers and then developed into captains. We are committed to mandatory training at all stages of a career, ensuring that pilots exceed their expected performance and consistently adhere to aviation regulations and requirements. The first female pilot was employed by Air Namibia twenty years ago, in February 1997.
Currently, 17 percent of our 83 pilots at Air Namibia are female. We recognise that this figure is too low and are taking steps to increase representation across the airline,” she added.
“Training and education are vital components in encouraging female pilots of the future. Our board has already approved the Cadet Pilot Programme, creating a feeder pipeline for the airline, which will begin in 2018. Air Namibia is also in contact with current university students keen on researching the airline for short internships or other research purposes. Beyond this, the airline intends to spend time amongst communities and local trade fairs demystifying the process of becoming a pilot,” said Samson.
“It is increasingly clear that girls in high school are unaware of the entry point for aviation studies and this information needs to be conveyed at career days in schools and communities. We recognise that catching potential pilots young and explaining their career trajectories and which subjects they need to study is the best way of developing young women for a future in the aviation industry,” said the acting M.D.