AM EDITORIAL: Considering Ethiopia’s Response To The Global Brain Drain Challenge

Globally, there is a projected high demand and shortage of aviation professionals between 2024 and 2050. Boeing company’s 2023 Pilot and Technician Outlook (PTO) projects that commercial carriers will need significant personnel through 2042 to support the global commercial fleet. There is need for 649,000 pilots, 690,000 maintenance technicians and 938,000 cabin crew members. Africa will need 21,000 pilots, 22,000 new technicians and 26,000 new cabin crew.

Africa is home to about 17% of the world’s population and the youngest of any continent. The number is expected to double by 2050, with more than half of the world’s population growth taking place in Africa over the next three decades. This growth will create a significant demand for jobs, resources, and other services, including air travel.

According to the Airbus Global Market Forecast, Africa will require nearly 1,200 aircraft deliveries by 2040, transitioning to new-generation models like the A320neo, A330neo, and A350.  There is a need to develop aviation infrastructure and raise awareness among young people to meet the future needs of the African air transport market.

Several aviation markets worldwide have since the late 90s, been repeatedly reported to have a shortage of pilots and other aviation professionals. For some African countries, losses of jobs for professionals have followed the collapse of national carriers that hitherto harboured many of them, who eventually retired.

Africa currently has professionals. However, with the advancements in technology that came with more airlines and more modern aircraft, and poor airline management in some African countries, alongside high cost of training, airlines in the Middle East, Europe, America and Asia have been gladly receiving willing African young professionals, giving them irresistible job offers and welfare packages.

The challenges around economics and poor management in Africa have powered exit of many professionals from the continent to work for airlines overseas. Some African operators’ preference for expatriate pilots and engineers has not helped matters. Today, there are many professionals from Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries, who are working and prefer to work for various foreign companies across the world because of better welfare packages and conditions of service over there. These exiting professionals are actually available only because aviation training institutions in Africa produce professionals yearly.

Perhaps, this is why some stakeholders posit that the region should take advantage of the shortage of aviation professionals in other regions based on the availability of good training institutions in Africa, with a view to turning the global brain drain situation into economic gain for Africa. They opine that rather than see the exit of trained professionals from Africa as a disadvantage, it should be turned into an advantage by developing more capacity to train more for “export.”

Ethiopia through the Ethiopian Aviation University seems to have moved ahead of other African countries in producing and selling high demand aviation professionals to the rest of the world. On June 15, 2024, the academy graduated close to 800 aviation professionals including international trainees from eight African countries and one from Asia. The graduation ceremony took place at the university’s facility. The graduates were trainees in Ethiopian Aviation University’s Pilot, Aviation Maintenance, Cabin Crew, and Commercial Training programmes.

Congratulating the aviation professionals, Ethiopian Airlines Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Mesfin Tasew, said: “Training globally competitive professionals, today, we graduate 308 aviation maintenance, 142 pilots, 297 cabin crew, 25 electro-mechanical professionals, and 15 ticket agents. I urge Africans to invest in training their youth for the future of aviation…”

On August 5, 2023 (10 months earlier), the university had graduated more than 1,550 aviation professionals drawn from Seven African countries. The graduates were from Pilot Training, Aviation Maintenance, Commercial, Cabin Crew Schools, and Hotel Operation.

Tasew had welcomed 660 male and 891 female graduates at that ceremony, declaring that human capital development was one of the key pillars in Ethiopian Airlines’ growth strategic plan, named Vision 2035. The Ethiopian Group and its various divisions had 17,000 employees in total, according to him. The aviation Group had upgraded its aviation academy to a university level just in 2023. The event saw trainees from Rwanda, Togo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sudan graduate in various aviation fields.

Professionals have also been produced in their hundreds repeatedly by the institution over the years. Today, Nigeria is armed with two key flying schools in Zaria and Ilorin. An Aviation University is already running in Abuja while several aviation training organizations produce Cabin attendants, Flight Dispatchers and other professionals. Working with a very deliberate, coordinated well thought out vision on human capital development, Nigeria can at least, be seen to be profitably approaching the leadership position it is supposed to occupy in this segment of global aviation business.

A mass production of aviation professionals for sale to the entire globe is what Ethiopia is doing. Nigeria can do it even better. AM

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Albinus Chiedu

Albinus Chiedu is a journalist, aviation media consultant, events management professional, and author. He has practiced journalism since 2000.

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