The Namibian aviation industry continues to wrestle locally trained specialists deficit, due to a lack of adequate funding while trainees are caught in a web of miscalculations by the implementing office and blame-shifting by responsible authorities.
On the other hand, students who had been sponsored by the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) to study in Cuba last year, have been stuck in the country for over half a year now. MoHSS has confirmed, however, they will be sent to Russia as soon as the logistics are sorted.
Twenty Namibian students studying for the Private Pilot License level at the Namibian Aviation Training Academy (NATA) under Government funding are currently grounded. Their studies have been put on hold, because there are no funds to cover their tuition fees for the required flying hours, which they need to complete, to qualify for a PPL.
This week, the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) revealed to The Villager it is considering completely pulling the plug off aviation students, because the courses are extremely expensive and the Directorate of Civil Aviation (DCA) is unwilling to take responsibility for the students.
Namibian Aviation Training Academy (NATA), has trained 148 Namibian students since its inception in 2000, in PPLs and 28 in CPLs who are captains and first officers for Air Namibia, NamPower, Nampol, NDF, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Government Air Transport Services, as well as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
Within the period under review, the institution also trained 11 students from SADC countries, such as Mozambique, Zambia and Angola.
Last year, The Villager reported that 231 students had been enrolled at NATA for the first decade since its inception and 148 had graduated with PPLs.
By 2010, however, Namibian Airliner, A340, had eight captains and 10 co-pilots while the Boeing 737 had 12 captains and 13 pilots. Of the 10 pilots flying for A340, only three were black.
Three of the students whose accounts have not been settled by the Fund have completed their courses but have been refused to graduate and receive their PPLs, because they have unsettled accounts that should have been sorted by the NSFAF.
The 20 students have not been attending school since September last year and will still not be allowed to take their flying classes on their curriculum, because their student account balances are unsettled.
According to NATA, each student needs to fly for at least 50 hours to finish their PPL course but the NSFAF loan/grant only covers for 30 hours, making this a recurring issue.
NATA is a private academy, which was founded as an arm of the German aviation company, Dornier. It has, on many occasions, allowed students to fly on credit but because the NSFAF has not been paying its debt, the academy has since been forced to ground students who do not have the funds to fly.
“Due to insufficient funds, training had to be suspended pending payment of the second instalment by NSFA. There are operational costs involved for which someone or an institution has to pay before a student pilot and instructor could take off for training. Should payment not be received soon, we are running the risk of students not being able to maintain the flying skills and theoretical knowledge gained this far,” said NATA general manager, Bethuel Mujetenga.
This means the students take longer to graduate from PPL courses and commercial pilot licensing after which they should be able to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL). With a PPL, a pilot is able to operate a one-engine plane.
The academy needs the funds to keep the programme running. The academy only allows the students to do their theory on credit but can no longer fly under the same conditions.
“We have been waiting for funds for six months and I have sent emails to NSFAF, which have all bore no fruit. However, students know if they do not have funds, they cannot finish their courses,” NATA administration said.
Of the 20 students, some were registered with the academy last year while others were registered the year before. Currently, all the students on the NSFAF loan/grant sit at home, waiting for the new budget of the NSFAF to be approved, so they can resume their studies.
However, the students would have to de-register to re-register for the first phase of the programme, because their programmes lapse if they stay out of school for six months.
It has been five months since 10 of those students flew and yet they only have a month left before their programme lapses. Whoever manages to collect money before end of this month will have to take a N$15 000 recap course, which is required by the law for all pilots who have been grounded for three months.
One hour of flying costs N$1 800, which is deducted from a student’s account at every flight session and yet the NSFAF gives an estimated N$67 000 to every aviation student per year.
The students are charged N$1 800 for basic manoeuvre and N$3000 for navigation. Most of them who have been grounded are still doing their basic manoeuvre studies.
Students who do not graduate to the CPL level remain at a disadvantage as they end up having trouble securing scholarships to pursue an ATPL.
DCA and NSFAF shift blame
The Fund told The Villager this week it had already picked up the problem regarding the funding of aviation students but could only do so much.
“The Fund realised it could not fund this group of students sufficiently, because most of the costs are for flying hours, which we do not have control over. As soon as we realised this predicament, we engaged the DCA, because they had available funds to train those kids. We are no longer considering funding these students in the future and the DCA will now have to take full responsibility for them as the implementing office,” said NSFAF head of communication, Percy Tjahere.
Tjahere added they do not fund all student costs and the fact that aviation students require close to N$400 000 to complete their PPLs or PLCs, they cannot cover such amounts, hence the request for DCA’s intervention.
“It would be best if only few students were identified and selected as per the DCA requirements to be funded for these courses, not all the applicants. That is because the courses are very expensive,” Tjahere said.
DCA director, Angeline Simana Paulo, protested the accusations saying NSFAF took up the task to fund trainees, even though it knew it was not well-funded.
“They must learn from their mistakes. They should have funded five students instead of 100 whom they left in destitute and without training. They (NSFAF) have a lot of weaknesses. These students applied for loans from the Fund, only to receive scholarships that would not cover the vital costs,” Paulo said.
She explained the Fund’s weaknesses had gone as far as [once] abandoning a student in Kenya whom it had sponsored. ”The Fund had failed to pay for his school, leaving him in a foreign country, penniless. The DCA had to come to the student’s rescue and award him a scholarship, as he was our employee,” Paolo said.
Health Ministry cancels scholarships to Cuba, for Russia
The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) has cancelled the studies of 125 prospective Namibian students in Cuba and will now send them to Russia instead.
The students should have been registered for studies in dentistry, medicine, psychiatry, physiotherapy, medical engineering and medical technician in September last year.
The students applied for scholarships awarded by the MoHSS, where after they quit their studies and jobs in pursuit of studies in Cuba, have been waiting to fly to the Caribbean island for half a year.
This year, MoHSS permanent secretary, Andrew Ndishishi, asked the students to reapply for their scholarship studies because they will be going to Russia instead of Cuba.
“If they call us to say we are going next week, I will still go but I must say I am discouraged. I want to go back to Unam, because I have wasted a lot of time. All we heard from the ministry is, we must reapply to go to Russia,” a student said under anonymity.
The students who should have been completing their first semester in Cuba by now have all started to resubmit their documents.
“We were just told that the Cuban Embassy in Namibia was slow at processing our documents,” she added.
Health Ministry has come short of revealing the reason for changing countries but The Villager has established the Cuban Embassy is at fault for delaying the processing of the students’ documentations.
Last year, Ndishishi blamed the slow process of documentation on the students and refused to take blame for crushed dreams, saying; “Who asked them to leave their schools and jobs?”
These scholarships had initially been awarded to public servants in the health sector but were withdrawn for fear of creating a deficit in the industry staff.