VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
OLIVER Ndhlovu, Proflight’s senior engineer responsible for ensuring that the airline’s planes are well-maintained, shares his aviation experience in the book 50 Years of Zambian Aviation.
He attended Miseshi Primary School and Ndeke High School in Kitwe before embarking on a three-year engineering diploma at the Zambia Air Services Training Institute (ZASTI) in Lusaka.
Oliver came out of ZASTI as an unlicensed engineer and joined Proflight in 2005 as a junior engineer. He wrote his first piston engine rating DCA exam while working for Proflight and has since done the Jetstream 3132 and Jetstream 41 type manufacturer’s courses which is what he works on today.
Oliver says he knew from a young age that he wanted to be an aircraft engineer. The realisation hit him when he was in class and heard the sound of an aircraft flying really low near Arthur Davies Stadium in Kitwe.
The plane landed on a deserted, dilapidated runway and broke two of its landing tyres.
“The next few days were the most memorable days of my life because I would stop there on my way to school and watch these aircraft engineers fix the plane up, I asked a lot of questions,” he narrates in the book.
“Exactly 12 days later, I watched the aircraft take off from the same runway after fixing the pot holes. Since then, I knew what I wanted to become, an aircraft engineer.”
Oliver is said to be the talent behind the stunning artwork seen on the outside of the Proflight planes; blue and orange logos, typeface, and everything that brands the airline’s fleet of aircraft.
There is more to his work.
“The whole purpose is to ensure that all the aircraft are in airworthy condition,” he says. “This means there is no deviation from what the manufacturers recommend. We try to make sure the aircraft runs as new as possible.”
Whatever the case, the ZASTI that Oliver attended is certainly very different to the one which existed in 80s.
ZASTI was created under the umbrella of the department of Technical Education and Vocational Training with the main purpose of training personnel primarily for the aviation industry.
It is the only fully fledged aviation training institution in Zambia and beyond the borders. It offers a variety of programmes in the aviation sector and related industries.
Captain George Mbazima, in the same book 50 Years of Zambian Aviation, explains that ZASTI contributed greatly to the aviation industry through the provision of trained personnel to the sector.
Initially, ZASTI offered courses in air traffic control, aircraft maintenance, engineering, aero electronics engineering, cadet pilot training, fire fighting, meteorology and airline transport pilot license.
“Although ZASTI was Government-owned, it was highly supported by the United Nations through its aviation body – Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO),” Captain Mbazima says.
The support was in form of provision of aviation experts (lecturers), and also awarding of ICAO scholarships to suitably qualified Zambian citizens.
“I am a beneficiary of this arrangement in that after obtaining my commercial pilot licence/instrument rating, I was awarded an ICAO scholarship to train as flying instructor at Oxford Air Training School in the United Kingdom in 1980,” he says.
Over the years, ZASTI produced highly trained personnel as pilots and engineers for the Zambia aviation market and later for the region and beyond.
During his tenure at ZASTI, which lasted almost 10 years as instructor, Captain Mbazima noted that foreign nationals from other African countries were enrolled at the institute.
Today, graduates from this institute are all over the world, in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the USA.
Captain Mbazima is also a senior captain in Air Namibia where he has worked for almost 22 years.
“I am proud to have flown as first officer B767-300ER, captain B747-400, MD11, A340-300 and currently A330-200- all thanks to ZASTI,” he says.
Through ZASTI’s high standards of training and irrefutable reputation, its graduates are more acceptable as some of the best trained and proven performers both locally and internationally.
The institute`s operations have evolved over the years to have global character and contributed significantly to the promotion of economic growth, development and improvement of quality of life and increase in the social interaction of all citizens.
Captain Mbazima says unfortunately today, this vital Zambian institution is now a shadow of its former self due to the scarcity of financial resources.
Captain Alick Sakala, one of the first Zambians to captain an aircraft, says ZASTI used to provide Zambia Airways with co-pilots and ground engineers who were very well trained.
“We would receive trained officers on Hawker Siddeley 748, a 45-seater aircraft which was British made,” Captain Sakala said. “We also saw efficiency in the management of the institution through its graduates who worked on some of the aircrafts at Zambia Airways.”
He says ZASTI needs to be revamped to become the viable institution that it was in the past. This, he suggests, can only happen when it is changed from the Ministry of Higher Education to that of the Ministry of Transport and Communication.
Captain Sakala also feels the institution needs human resource that is more resourceful to run ZASTI as a business entity.
Captain Maurice Chimbelu, who worked for Zambia Airways from 1971 until its demise in 1994, remembers nostalgically the golden years of ZASTI.
“In 1970, the Zambian government set up the Commission of Vocational Training and Technical Education. It was housed at the old Secretariat buildings. Mr Valentine Shula Musakanya was the first commissioner and his deputy was a white man called Mr Mitchel,” Captain Chimbelu says.
“The commission was funded by the Canadian government, the commission later became a Department of Technical Education and Vocational Training. Since at that time, they were no Zambian pilots in the national airline, Zambia Airways, which at that time was being managed by Alitalia, the Italian airline, Mr Musankanya devised a scheme to encourage young Zambian school leavers and University of Zambia students to learn to fly so that later, they could take up careers as airline pilots after completing their commercial pilot licence.
“Since there was no flying school in Zambia at that time, Mr Musakanya arranged with the Lusaka Flying Club, which was located at City Airport, where ZAF is currently headquartered. Mr Musakanya was already a senior member of the club and he owned an aircraft, a Bonanza registration 9J-ABO, so it was easy for him to convince to secure an arrangement where school leavers and university students could receive flying lessons during weekends or on part time basis.”
Captain Chimbelu says the government was to pay for the membership and flying lessons at the Lusaka Flying Club.
However, he says unfortunately, very few university students took an interest in this offer, those who joined dropped off along the way. Only Captain Alick Sakala continued with the scheme. He decided to quit his university studies and pursue a career as an airline pilot.
In January 1971, Zambia Airways sponsored him for training in Perth, Scotland. By the time Zambia Airways was liquidated, Captain Alick Sakala was chief pilot – standards and training. He was also the chief instructor on the DC10 (Nkwazi).
“Four ex- school leavers (including Captain Chimbelu) in June 1971, after obtaining private pilot licences were sponsored by Zambia Airways to Air Service Training in Perth, Scotland for commercial pilot licence,” Captain Chimbelu says.
“This was the beginning of pilot training in Zambia. Later that year, the government opened a flying school based at the Lusaka Flying Club to provide training up to commercial pilot licence, later, this school was called ZASTI and shifted to Lusaka International Airport (now Kenneth Kaunda International Airport).”