Innovation stemmed from many quarters, with the majority of feasible new concepts emerging from academia and, particularly in the aerospace industry, from those completing or who have completed their PhDs, University of Pretoria (UP) head of the electrical, electronic and computer engineering department Professor Sunil Maharaj said at the AVI Afrique Africa Aviation Innovation Summit in November.
Air Traffic & Navigation Services (ATNS) hosted the AVI Afrique Africa Aviation Innovation Summit to promote research and development within the African aviation and aerospace industries.
“One of the challenges of the aviation industry is meeting the required growth in the number of graduating PhDs.
“South Africa is, at present, maintaining a consistent supply of graduates but has yet to meet the growth in the number of graduates obtain- ing their PhDs, particularly the targets set forth by the National Planning Com-mission, which seeks 5 000 doctoral degrees a year by 2030,” he stated.
Maharaj added that, even then, UP would attain only 100 PhD graduates per million people in the population.
“That is low by international standards, with the UK leading the pack at 288 doctoral qualifications per million people.”
Maharaj pointed out that South Africa and other African States, nevertheless, boasted a high calibre of capability in the aerospace and aviation industries.
Department of Science and Technology chief director Beeuwen Gerryts said South African aviation and aerospace organisations were well integrated into the European research and development tracks and that they predominantly developed technologies.
He added that South African aviation and aerospace organ- isations operated as subcontractors for large aviation original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) businesses in Europe and North America, while operating as OEMs in developing countries.
“Established markets abroad, however, are difficult areas for local businesses in which to innovate, as subcontractors and organisations do so largely around their specific subassemblies.
“In addition, the enormous expense of development and manufacturing, coupled with the cascading effects of global manufacture, has given rise to globalised risk sharing.
“Each subcontractor is increasingly responsible for research and development in his or her specific niche areas and, consequently, shares in the profits; however, that model requires large investment to maintain pace with the research and development track,” he stated.
Gerryts further said, in the long-haul market, the adoption cycle of new tech- nologies could range anywhere from 10 to 15 years, which further increased the risk for innovators.
“Far greater opportunity for innovation in the aerospace industry in Africa lies in other technologies, such as unman-ned aerial vehicles, general aircraft, helicopters, guided weapons, security and aviation-related services,” he said.
Meanwhile, South African National Space Agency CEO Dr Sandile Malinga demonstrated how South Africa’s space programme benefited the air traffic sector in terms of navigation services.
“It is the common misconception that navigation is handled by global positioning systems alone, yet, there remains a strong reliance on magnetic and other navigation instruments, particularly as backup systems.
“In addition, information transmission networks incorporating low earth-orbit and space systems can reliably reach any place on earth and, therefore, form a fundamental support system for those networks,” he said.
ATNS engineering and technical services acting executive director Leago Takalani stated that the African aviation industry should home in on the needs of customers and stakeholders and foster a readiness to deal with disruptive market forces from abroad.
“There are many enablers for innovation in the African aviation industry, yet there is no collaboration or an inte- gration of efforts. We cannot be everywhere and do everything, so we must play a part and find our niche of excellence and capitalise on that.
“This forum is to invite all industry players to a multi- lateral, integrated approach to innovation for the industry that can contribute to the competitiveness, the bottom line and the value-add of the industry. Integration is fundamental to that,” she said.