Ndabenhle David Simelane (40) has become the first black chief pilot for South African National Parks (SANParks) Air Services.
Simelane, who studied in the United States of America, had his first helicopter ride when he was 19.
“It was frighteningly exciting. We flew from Grand Central Airport towards Pretoria. I remember telling myself that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” he says.
At the time, there was only one person of colour in the country qualified as a commercial helicopter pilot. “I was determined to change that. Little did I know that it would be a painstaking task to find funding. I eventually got funding from the Transport Education Training Authority,” says Simelane.
His promotion sees Simelane moving from the rank of pilot to SANParks’ chief pilot. He is now also responsible for operations, as per the South African Civil Aviation Authority’s (SACAA) regulations.
“I am humbled by the trust vested in me and my team to take Air Services to new heights. I think it’s important that I am a person of colour, but that should not be the be-all and end-all of this promotion. I believe I have a lot to offer, not just Air Services but the organisation at large,” says Simelane.
To youth hoping to follow in his footsteps, Simelane says being a pilot is not glamorous. “Forget becoming a pilot if you have no passion for aviation. Without passion, you will not see beyond the inevitable challenges on your journey to becoming a pilot.”
Fly Black Hawk, fly!
It comes as no surprise that Simelane, known as the ‘Black-Black Hawk’, is progressing through the ranks.
“He is a skilled professional pilot, with solid management and leadership skills, is approachable and has strength of character to boot,” says SANParks Chief Operating Officer Lize McCourt.
When he arrived at the SANParks Airwing in Skukuza, Mpumalanga, almost a year ago, Simelane wasted no time forging a solid relationship with the SACAA – an endeavour that serves SANParks well in terms of aviation compliance.
Air Services is part of the new Area Integrity Management Unit, which was established to better coordinate safety and security within SANParks.
“We believe the team will continue to excel with Simelane at the helm of Air Services and that he will take it to the next level. Fly Black Hawk, fly,” says McCourt.