Aviation Authority head defies stereotypes

Thursday, October 20, 2016

By Nosihle Shelembe

The woman at the helm of the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) is making serious moves in a traditionally male dominated industry.

Having started her career in 1998 at an entry level position, current SACAA CEO Poppy Khoza’s story is testimony to the belief that with hard work and dedication, women can break barriers in traditionally male dominated industries while proving to be competent and capable.

When she joined the industry, she was always eager to learn and did not want to be seen as “arrogant and a person who wanted to rattle the cage” because South Africa had just entered into a new democracy.

She let her work speak for itself and gained respect from her peers which opened doors for her to work in management positions at SAA. Khoza rose through the ranks by working in various key departments such as Corporate Safety, Security and Environment and also occupied the position of an Aviation Security Manager.

In 2003, she joined the SA Civil Aviation Authority as a Senior Manager responsible for aviation security in a regulatory environment. She was promoted to General Manager for aviation security.

In 2013, Khoza became the first black woman to be appointed to the position of Director of the SACAA. She went on to make a name for herself in the aviation industry winning numerous awards for her work.

She says driving the agenda for transformation has always been one of the issues close to her heart.  That doesn’t come as a surprise considering that she herself had to work very hard to be on top.

“We believe that if we promote transformation in the sector it might have a multiply effect where we see particularly black women being introduced into the sector.”

Khoza attributes her recognition for her role in the sector to her consistency, building teams that are progressive, clear vision and selecting talent for the organisation.

Three years ago, the aviation authority introduced a bursary programme for young girls from rural areas to study towards a course in aviation.

“Having a pilot coming from the deep rural areas might spark interest for other girls in the area, so it creates awareness. We also believe that when these girls make it in aviation, they might want to plough back their skills in their own community,” says Khoza.

More than 30 students are now enrolled in courses in the aviation sector and four of those have completed their commercial pilot licenses.

“They are now pursuing their airline transport licenses, equally we are assisting them to get job opportunities in the industry. We have engaged with a number of airlines to ask them to absorb them and give them on the job training.

“In piloting you are as good as the number of hours that you have flown, so if you have flown less hours, you are less experienced.”


A leader in her on right, Khoza was not only the first black woman at SACCA to occupy an executive position, but internationally, she has made her mark. In 2015, she was elected as the first female Chairperson of the International Civil Aviation Organisation Aviation Security Panel, which she says is testimony that South Africa is recognised as a global player.

She was re-elected for a second term as chairperson of the panel earlier this year at a meeting which was held in Montreal, Canada.

“It’s very humbling that the international community recognised that in South Africa there is a woman that can lead and chair that very important panel which dictates the agenda globally in terms of how we must react to issues that relate to aviation security.

“As long as women demonstrate that they are competent, capable and can advance a sound argument or discussion and contribute to the course, other people will easily recognise that.”

Corporate Governance

Khoza is also committed to clean governance and this was demonstrated by clean audit awards SACAA had received from the Auditor General for three consecutive years. The organisation is set to receive a fourth clean audit award from the AG.  

“One of the reasons that contributed to us maintaining a clean audit record for four years is because I am very conscious about doing things right. I always say let’s not cut corners.”

She has created stability in the organisation and under her leadership, the SACAA has walked away with the Best Performing Institution in Transport for two consecutive years, while Khoza was named the Best Chief Executive Officer in Transport at the 2015 Annual Transport Awards.

In November last year, the organisation also received the Top Performing Public Service Award at the National Business Awards.

Khoza has a Diploma in Travel and Tourism and a Degree in Business Administration. –SAnews.gov.za



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