MrIn the small, landlocked country of Swaziland, there is certain zeal to enhance the air transport system and its reward to the economy and people's livelihoods. Mr. Solomon Dube, Director General of the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA), here details the opportunities and modalities in building up the industry from the scratch.

Q: Swaziland is one of the small States emerging in Africa's aviation industry. Can you give an overview of civil aviation industry of Swaziland as at today, what has improved within the last three years?

A: Swaziland is a country of 1.2 million people and the industry is still small. We have one foreign airline operator, South African Airlink, which connects Swaziland with South Africa for access to the outside world; and we are land locked. In 2015, we had an ICVM (ICAO Coordinated Validation Missions) audit by ICAO where we moved from 12% to 30% of effective implementation of standards. But since then because they did identify where we had shortcomings we have improved, and we are just hoping that at the beginning of 2018 we are going to have our second ICVM under the 'No Country Left Behind' initiative.

We still do not have any air operator certificate issued. Those who have applied since then because of our strict vetting system have not been able to get through the system as they used to, so that is an improvement as we cannot jeopardise the travelling public by issuing AOCs to people who are not fully compliant with our regulations. So the regulator has got a very solid foundation. We have trained our inspectors in all the areas.  We have personnel in all the areas, that is, personnel licensing, aircraft operations, airworthiness of aircraft, air navigation services and aerodromes and in aviation security.

And lately we have added the safety management systems inspectors and these are being given very good training. And then for on-the-job training we have got good corporative agreement with our neighbour, South Africa. We also have our State aircraft which are registered with the civil aviation authority.

Q: Do you have AOCs issued and do you have ad hoc or scheduled operators in Swaziland so far?

A: Not yet; we have only one foreign operator currently. The national airline is being revived - Royal Swazi National Airways Corporation. But initially it is only to manage the State aircraft; we have got MD87 and as we speak we have a course ongoing on type rating of our inspectors for this aircraft so that we can be assured of good oversight. The pilots and operators are actually coming from Greece, they have got EASA licenses, so safety is assured.

We are in the process also of certifying our only international airport, the King Mswati Airport. We are hoping that we will issue a new certificate for the airport in fulfilment of the Abuja safety targets set by our ministers of transport who said that by end of 2017 at least one international airport in a State should be certified.

Q: What are you doing in the area of improving safety oversight system in Swaziland?

A: In 2015, we requested SADC, our regional body, to allow Swaziland to host the regional safety oversight body and they allowed us that. So we have been paying for offices to host that organisation, it's now legally in Swaziland. There is still an interim staff because we need 10 State signatories to make it a fully functional body, so we still need one State because 9 have signed, and 1 is needed. Once that happens, we will be sure to have a regional body in SADC located in Swaziland.

The whole aim of Swaziland spending that money to pay for the offices and to get there organisations in Swaziland is to supplement our core staff, because we don't have a big industry, so it would not make economic sense to have too many inspectors, so we want to benefit from the shared pool, and the pool is in Swaziland. The current inspectors, are also going to be seconded to their regional body to go out to assist in implementing its mandate in that region, so it's good for anyone.

Q: What percentage of your population uses aviation as a means of travel, and what is the government doing to empower and encourage more people to fly?

A: Currently, only 2% of the Swaziland Population uses air transportation. Part of the reason for this is that most of our business connections are in South Africa which is less than a one hour connectivity flight so people actually opt to use road. But because we are members of COMESA and SADC, and the government has signed agreement with those RECs, economically we are connected right up to Egypt with COMESA, for instance. And you cannot reach that place without using air transport.

Part of the reason why our people are only commercially connected to South Africa is because they have not been exposed to the other countries within the RECs. If they knew that they could actually go and deal in Egypt, in Ethiopia, in Kenya, then they will know there is an alternative which might be even economically better.  So the government is doing something about that, we just need to push it in the aviation side.

But again that's something we start from scratch, and it will take a bit of time. In the meantime we are encouraging Swazi the 98% of the population remaining to get used to flying. So we have embarked on a project where we take school children to fly from our airport and around the country so they can see their country from the top. It has a potential of generating half a million air passengers a year. We want to then help them familiar with air travel to South Africa and other places within the SADEC and ultimately to the rest of the continent.

Q: Now, what economic activities are in Swaziland to attract that level of business and investors that will support aviation?

A: We got the government to pass it into law the provision that an area of about 5 kilometres from the centre of the airport be known as an economic zone duty free. That has been done, and we invite investors to come and manufacture in Swaziland for export, because as a member of COMESA we give people and investors access to a market of 35 million people in COMESA, not just the 1million people in Swaziland.

And investors have already started coming, discussions are ongoing and they want to set up big hotels, the airport city, shopping areas and manufacturing of high value goods. We are also encouraging our agricultural sector to look for market outside because we have got good soil and Swaziland has invested in building big dams to support these and other activities.

For aviation, that means there will be passengers and cargo going into the future. We must have the future population geared towards using aviation; they mustn't think of it as 'it's not our mode of transport.'

Q: What do you see as the most crucial challenge you face in the process of achieving this transformation of the aviation industry in Swaziland, would you see say financing and funding is one of them?

A: That is the major problem because we have a much bigger mountain to climb in convincing people with money to invest in an industry that is being projected but it's not visibly there today. But as I was saying, a few of the investors are starting to see into the future. The way out is not to go for the conventional, look at your own market, and what you can offer which everybody else is not seeing. And this is where being small is an advantage, because we are going to do this and the world is going to learn from us - how to develop air traffic from zero.

The other thing that we have noted, since we are starting this student project and we are aiming at getting five hundred thousand per year within 3 years of now, we will need more aircraft which will need more pilots, which will need more mechanics, etc. So we have also embarked on developing our aviation academy so that we will develop our own practitioners and the future aviation professionals. We are talking to Singapore aviation academy and others, so we are really going to develop a very good state-of-the-art school at a very cost-effective rate where we develop our own personnel.

Q: Looking at 2018 and beyond what plans do you have to expand and push further these objective?

A: It has been said that States must develop a marketing material to get the public to understand that aviation is theirs to use; so this is our aim. I'm going to be pushing for parliament, the cabinet, the schools and the general public to utilize aviation effectively. The government has built an airport for you at US $300 million, use it for your own development. We are landlocked, so government built this facility as a strategic project and it's up to us to use it.

Q: What is your word to other CAA's civil aviation authorities in Africa?

A: I am saying the challenge of Swaziland is only an example of the challenge of Africa. Africa is known to command less than four percent of world air traffic, that's not our potential as Africa. But we need to think outside the conventional to increase our traffic numbers. And as soon as we increase our traffic numbers, the aircraft manufacturers are going to come to us with good aircraft, then the accident rate will further reduce and in addition overall safety will be improved.

"It has been said that States must develop a marketing material to get the public to understand that aviation is theirs to use; so this is our aim. I'm going to be pushing for parliament, the cabinet, the chools and the general public to utilize aviation effectively."

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