March 2023 – LOOKING AT THE ADVERTISEMENTS for planes for sale is worrying.

It’s not just the usual crop of aircraft from people wanting to trade up. There is a far greater proportion of pilots selling everything: their planes, headsets and hangars.

In other words, they are done with flying. The problem is simple. South Africans have been made steadily poorer by incompetent government, the state of disaster from Eskom’s failure, and now Grey Listing. As the country gets poorer the Rand weakens and new planes become prohibitively expensive. Fuel and maintenance also become unaffordable and thus too many pilots are just hanging up their headsets.

Aviation is a capital-intensive industry that is typically very competitive and thus has low margins. To grow, the industry needs to have confidence in the economy – and in government. On top of the damage to the industry caused by the failure South Africa’s government, there are the ongoing debilitating attacks on the industry by misguided bureaucrats at the CAA.

‘The problem is simple.’

There are currently at least four such attacks:

  • The conflict between the designated flight examiners and the CAA’s testing officers has once again come to a head. (I deal with this in my Attitude for Altitude column this month).
  • Other worrying problems are the R380 charges now being levied for a simple administrative function which used to be free – notably the addition of a new aircraft type to the pilots’ ratings.
  • Then too there is the arbitrary changing of standards for the restricted radio licence examiners.
  • And lurking in the background, the inability to the CAA to deal decisively with airworthiness problems that should require an Airworthiness Directive.

Reports from banks, and in particular aviation lenders, shows that the industry is taking a wait and – see approach to expenditure. Flight schools report that there are very few people wanting to learn to fly for fun. The only flying schools that are thriving are those training foreign students for airline careers.

The sale of recreational aviation aircraft is at an all-time low. Sling Aircraft now sells the bulk of its production internationally, as locally very few pilots can afford to pay more than two million Rand for a basic two-seater recreational plane.

The sales of type certified piston aircraft have dried up almost entirely.

There is a sense that almost everyone is just holding their breath – or perhaps sitting on their hands. It was hoped that with the end of COVID there would be a collective sense of the unburdening of the economy as though a huge weight of depression has been lifted from its shoulders.

It may seem hard to imagine now – but everything is cyclical – and this too shall end.

Then the pendulum will swing back from the extreme depression it is in now, to the other extreme of optimism, and we will once again be flying in the best country in the world.

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