23 - 24 October 2018

Breaking barriers in the aviation industry through innovation.

Day One

CEO Welcome

Thabani holds a BEng (Hon) Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pretoria, a BSc Eng in Electrical Engineering from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, a National Diploma in Electronic Engineering from Technikon Natal, a Diploma in Management of ANSP (IATA Institute) and completed the International Executive Development Program with Wits University and the London Business School. He holds a World Executive MBA through the George Washington University, USA. Thabani serves as the CEO of ATNS and as the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) Africa Region Chairperson.

Thabani has over 10 years' experience in aviation, specialising in Air Traffic Management. An engineer by profession, he has previously worked for a number of major companies in various senior positions including Eskom, Transnet Ports Authority and NERSA. He is a registered professional engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa, a member of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers as well as the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa. Thabani is a member of the Air Services Licensing Council.


Refilwe is a social entrepreneur, a qualified pilot (fixed wing and rotor wing), and an academic, passionate about youth development and the economic empowerment of women in the aviation and space industry in Africa. She is currently a flight instructor and serves on various aviation boards including serving on the Domestic Air Service Licensing Council as Vice Chairperson.

She is a founding partner of both Women and Aviation (W&A), and Southern African Women in Aviation and Aerospace Industry (SAWIA), a registered hybrid organisation dedicated to the sustainable economic empowerment and personal development of women in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, with a focus on the aviation and space industry through various strategic programmes. She is also a founder of the Girls Fly Programme in Africa (GFPA) foundation (registered NPO and PBO) – an information and skills development STEM education programme for school and post-school learners with a focus on aviation and space sciences. The programme includes the use of design thinking, technology, and innovation to inform, connect, motivate and inspire the next generation of makers and problem solvers in the aviation and space industry.

Refilwe is a recipient of numerous scholarships, international awards and honours for her work in both SAWIA and the GFPA foundation. The continued successes of these organisations has led her to being named as the recipient of multiple social entrepreneurship awards such as; the winner in the entrepreneurship category at the inaugural South African Youth Awards in 2012, the winner of the aviation category of CEO Communication's most influential Women in Business and Government in 2012 and 2015; and was listed as one of the top 35 Africans under 35 to watch by the Young People in International Affairs (YPIA) in 2014. In 2018 she was selected as one of the top 8 innovators in Africa by the BBC. She is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society, council member of the Aeronautical Society of South Africa (AeSSA) outreach team and a recipient of The Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship (AEMSF) for flight training in 2018.

She holds an Airline Transport Pilot license (ATPL) for helicopters and a frozen ATPL fixed wing license. She flew for the South African Police Service for 10 years as a helicopter pilot while being the first black female to do so and flew for a regional airline for two years as a Junior First Officer on a CRJ 200.

Refilwe holds a Bachelor of Science degree (Microbiology and Biochemistry) from the University of Cape Town (UCT), a post-graduate Diploma in Business Administration from UCT graduate school of business and an MBA from the University of Pretoria's Gordon Institute of Business Science. She will be pursuing her PhD in 2019. In her free time, she flies all over the country in a C172, landing in remote areas to inspire girls to take up careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

Day Two


Linden Birns is the founder and Managing Director of Plane Talking, the air transport and aerospace-focused communications, public affairs and reputation management agency based in Cape Town, South Africa. Plane Talking works with clients around the world including airlines, aircraft manufacturers, airports and industry associations.

He is also a founding partner of BHK Crisis Communications, a global practice which prepares, trains and supports organisations and executives for and during crises. As an experienced crisis communications advisor, Linden has worked with numerous airlines, aircraft operators, airports, aircraft manufacturers and government agencies in the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In December 2004 he was also deployed to Phuket, Thailand as part of a task team assembled to support the Asia Tsunami response and victim identification programme.

Linden is regularly called on to provide expert commentary and analysis on the aviation and air transport industry for African broadcast outlets.

He holds a Bachelor of Journalism from Rhodes University (1985). Prior to moving into communications, during the late 1980s – early 1990s, he was an award-winning newspaper journalist and photographer for Business Day, a radio presenter, TV News reporter and anchor, non-fiction author and TV producer in South Africa, Namibia and the UK. In addition to the local media, Linden's reports and photographs also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, Associated Press, the BBC and several other news titles.

From 1991 Linden began focusing on aviation, aerospace, defence and related topics, working as the Southern Africa contributor for Flight International and various other professional industry trade journals. From 1993 – 1998 Linden was a partner and editor of the best-selling AirReport yearbooks on aviation in South Africa and author of More than Game, a best-seller coffee table book on the South African Air Force.

Linden is married to Hilka and they have two sons. His hobbies include flying light aircraft and he is also a musician with a Cape Town jazz band.