Transformation should be a top priority among the issues that need to be addressed in manufacturing for the aviation industry, says maintenance solutions provider Dynamic Aerotech technical operation and research director Mulalo Neluheni.
She notes that while inclusion of women, the youth and black people has lagged in South Africa, there has been a concerted effort by industry association the Commercial Aerospace Manufacturing Association of South Africa – of which the company is a member – to move the industry forward in this regard.
Neluheni adds that, while the industry has been receptive towards black talent, more could be done.
“It is especially important that we broaden the minds of new entrants and expose them to more opportunities. Having worked in this space as a black-owned startup company, we have realised that a small group of people cannot build this industry and we need more participants who are willing to broaden their minds.”
She highlights that with the right structural support, South Africa could easily establish itself as a world leader in aerospace.
To this end, Dynamic Aerotech COO Siphiwe Tembe highlights that, while there is scope for black people with potential to thrive in this space, the whole value chain in the aerospace industry needs to be taken into account. This, he says, requires a mindset shift where black people are not only exposed to general labour-type job functions.
“There are other career options, such as engineering and entrepreneurship, for example. In these career options, industry remains predominantly white and more can be done – such as allowing marginalised people to access information and exposure to the field – to prompt participation from black people, the youth and women as they can contribute to the industry on a larger scale,” he tells Engineering News.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has set the company a few steps back, Tembe explains that this has enabled Dynamic Aerotech to refocus and further align with global trends, which is crucial, as aviation is essentially an international market.
He highlights that original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) production has been halted by a third, consequently presenting some difficulties. However, the company is working with a leading African manufacturer to establish a workshop that will manufacture elementary parts for an OEM.
This process, Neluheni advances, should be completed by December. “Hopefully, things will have stabilised by then and we can make up for all the job losses.
“The pandemic has been a stumbling block, as it came with a lot of delays, but we are finding creative ways of getting back on our feet, albeit slowly”.
Further, as manufacturers in this space have to comply with international standards, which are prescribed by the National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program, Federal Aviation Administration and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, this has proven to be extremely challenging for small enterprises operating within this capital-intensive environment.
“Attaining the necessary certifications can be pricey and government does not make it easy for us to attain those certifications, owing to a lack of funding. Moreover, we find that government does not put in the required effort to promote the capabilities that South Africa has in this space,” she adds.
Tembe further highlights that the local industry has the appropriate policies – such as the Public-Private Growth Initiative and the Aerospace Masterplan – that could take it forward. “However, we need to get to the implementation phase to eliminate as much red tape as possible with regard to operating on an international scale.”
Meanwhile, Dynamic Aerotech is also aiming to launch a training programme by next year that will cover aspects such as sheet metal fabrication, nondestructive testing, painting, composite and welding. The company wants to expose new entrants in the industries to South Africa’s capabilities in the aerospace industry.
“As people are already coming up with new designs of what future aircrafts will look like, we would also like to tap into that and bring a few people up along with us on the way,” says Neluheni.
Tembe adds that the future remains bright, although it may take a bit more time to gain traction.
“We should also consider that aerospace has a spill-over effect, as whatever has been developed in this space can be applied to many other industries. In this sense, more funds should also be allocated to the research and development in the long term.”