A tour of Sir Seretse Khama International in Gaborone-Botswana
By Jonathan Laverick
It is not often the public get a chance to see behind the scenes at an international airport so the tours of Sir Seretse Khama in Gaborone have proved to be a real hit with aviation enthusiasts. Who is it behind this initiative? A youth based organisation, Life from the Sky.
Life from the Sky was formed a couple of years ago with the dual purpose of getting young people interested in aviation and also assisting those who were undergoing pilot training, offering support with the ultimate aim of helping pilots into that first job - where soft skills, type ratings and knowing where the vacancies are in the first place are all important in getting a seat in the bush-pilot mecca that is Maun.
As part of the former brief, the group have been offering hangar tours at Gaborone's international airport to the general public and it was of those I was lucky to join.
Arriving at The Kalahari Flying Club we were greeted by Amith Babu and Loruo Kewegamang, two of the founding members of Life from the Sky. We were then driven to control tower and a brief security check was conducted. After a surprisingly long lift journey we were soon on the top deck of the impressive building where two Air Traffic controllers we on duty.
Here the whole process of ATC was explained and questions were answered. These included requests for information on training as an ATC in Botswana moving onto detailed explanations of the area the tower is responsible for and how controllers plan and keep track of aircraft movements. While the tower is equipped with state-of-the-art computer systems, it was fascinating to see that use of traditional cardboard slots are still the primary and most effective way of visualising the order of arrivals and departures.
With two flying schools (and a third on the way) and five international airlines operating from the airport, the circuit was continuously busy. The traffic was handled in true Botswana fashion of relaxed professionalism. The controllers were friendly, clearly serious, knowledgeable and both had a passion for their work - and I loved the flip-flops that formed part of the laid-back attire.
A group shot of or tour members was then taken with the iconic tower in the background. This Saturday's group included two prospective pilots and a group of aviation enthusiasts - one of whom was on his second tour of the year.
A short drive took us back to the general aviation apron and the hangar of the now defunct Flying Mission Services.
Losing FMS was a blow, but fortunately the Flying Mission School was run as a separate entity.
This is great news for those wanting engineering training, as they are the best known school in Botswana and their scholarships had helped many an AMO into the business.
The hangar we saw held an upcoming surprise for the training community in Botswana in the shape of a new type in the country - more details to come soon.
Let's just say that a fleet of five state of the art trainers of perhaps the prettiest design will soon be offering courses from zero to CPL with a clear focus on traditional pilot skills as well as crew and systems management.
A short talk on the principles of flight was given under the shade of the wing of an ex-FMS aircraft, which was much appreciated by the tour party.
We were then given a pre-check briefing in the cockpit of a King Air, with Loruo explaining the start-up procedure and acting as instructor to each member of the tour. While I loved the tower tour, this was clearly the favourite for the rest of the group and they all climbed out with the childish grin of someone who has just had a lot of fun - and who could blame them.
The group were then joined by Sharon Rankwana, Life from the Sky's strategic manager and we were given advice on how to advance a career in aviation, including financing options. This led to many questions, all of which were answered in full by the Life from the Sky volunteers before we had a much needed soft drink.
While Sharon has plans to join the new flight school, Loruo has completed his training in Botswana and Amith is returning to Canada next week to continue his path in the air. They are all a credit to the energy and resourcefulness of today's youth and the passion they have for flying was clear. While still under wraps, I know that Life from the Sky is working on a new project that will help pilots into that first important job and the funds raised from these hangar tours will be well spent.
It was interesting to see the range of types on the tarmac, from Slings and Cessnas through to a very smart PC-12.
While most of the group were focused on the current comings and goings, I enjoyed exploring the airport dumps - with some interesting types languishing in the Kalahari sun - even though it is always sad to see the end of any machine.
It is amazing how young pilots, many trained by the Botswana Government, are making real waves in the country and are serious about developing the industry. The ones I met on Saturday would be great catches for any aviation company, either regionally or internationally.
The tour takes around two and a half hours and is a must for anyone with an interest in aviation, young or old. They cost P100 each (about R140, under 12's free) and it is planned that they will be monthly affairs.
For more information, email the group at firstname.lastname@example.org or see their Facebook page https://web.facebook.com/lifefromtheskybotswana
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