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Airbus #Africa4Future Summit Day kicked off in Cape Town: key takeaways

Lundie Strom, Wednesday May 15th 2019

On May 10, 2019, MEST and Innocircle hosted the Airbus BizLab #Africa4Future Accelerator Summit Day in Cape Town, which welcomed expert speakers from the aerospace industry to share their insights with the #Africa4Future companies and Cape Town’s aerospace enthusiasts.

After a warm welcome from Martin Weiss, Country Director for GIZ, we heard from Corne Eloff, Head of Business Development at Airbus Defence & Space, Africa. “How will humans adapt their skills to understand the new [technological] revolution that is coming?” he asked. “Africa is one of the continents that adapts the quickest to technology - we have experienced and seen it.”

Corne Eloff, Head of Business Development at Airbus Defence & Space, Africa

An inspiring all-female Aerospace in Africa panel discussion followed, featuring Refilwe Ledwaba (South Africa’s first black female helicopter pilot and founder of the Girls Fly Programme in Africa Foundation), Carolina Odman (Physics and Astrology Professor at the University of Western Cape), and Fatima Jakoet (South African Airways pilot and forensic scientist).

The women provided extraordinary insight into topics surrounding the potential of the aerospace industry to impact the continent, and discussed several of the barriers that currently make it difficult to do so, as well as where support should come from.

Refilwe Ledwaba, Carolina Odman and Fatima Jakoet

“We all know what opportunities could be unlocked if more [UAV] operators were able to gain a license to fly within South Africa,” said Refilwe. It is easier said than done, however. “The regulatory framework is a barrier to entry; part of the application requires showcasing the drone, but the certification processes take upwards of one year. By the time you receive clearance, the technology is already outdated.”

But there is hope, Refilwe reassured us. “By 2030, more than 60% of the African population [will be] under the age of 25. Today, we have the best educated and globally connected population the continent has ever have. We need to leverage this!”

Carolina added to the optimism. When discussing the rapid development of UAVs, artificial intelligence and computing, she said, “What we know for sure is that the sky is certainly not the limit. The technologies coming out today are complementary, and the space for innovation is absolutely amazing. In terms of the future of commercial airspace in Africa and beyond, we have a bandwagon to jump on - both to do with low altitude aircraft, and out in space!”

But where do we begin? Fatima, who works with STEM learners at the Cape Academy and Western Cape, says it should be with early education. “The next generation is the generation of space travelers. Aerospace has always been seen as an exclusive industry - to become an astronaut, or an aerospace engineer… We need to ensure that STEM curriculum is not only introduced to our children, but made accessible.”

Refilwe Ledwaba, South Africa’s first black female helicopter pilot and founder of the Girls Fly Programme in Africa Foundation

Following pitches by the ten participating #Africa4Future startups, the day closed with breakaway sessions exploring various topics such as investment in Africa, smart cities and villages, and food security. These collaborative discussions continued at the next day's World Café event at the Cape Academy of Maths and Technology.

Check out our blog covering the ten #Africa4Future startups, the World Café event, and more takeaways from the rest of the program here.