Aerotropolis Trailblazer Graduates with PhD
The word Aerotropolis may sound like a tongue twister for many but for PhD graduate, Dr Nomkhosi Luthuli, the term is a niche area that sees her continually breaking new ground.
Luthuli, an expert in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and industrial development related research projects at UKZN, describes an aerotropolis as a city that is built around an airport to stimulate economic growth and generate revenue. However, it is her unique understanding of this area that saw her nominated for a benchmarking tour of aerotropolis and aviation related institutes in Dubai and the Netherlands in 2016 which saw her represent UKZN in the South Africa-Sweden urbanisation and cities in the 21st Century Forum.
This is a three-year project (2017 to 2020) which brings together researchers, students, industries, funding agencies and other societal actors from Sweden and South Africa to discuss global challenges and their impact on society. In 2018, Luthuli was featured in Destiny Magazine’s coveted Power of 40 list which profiles 40 women under the age of 40 doing extraordinary things in their various industries. In the same year, she also made The Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans list and was awarded the KZN Young Achievers Award under the Academic Category.
‘Aerotropolis is currently a key strategic investment and a major infrastructure project of the government of South Africa aimed at driving industrial and regional economic development. Conducting research around this area is useful for us to find better ways of setting up these kinds of industrial complexes within the African context,’ said Luthuli.
Supervised by Dr Jennifer Houghton, her study: An Exploration of the Conceptualisation and Enactment of Regional Economic Development Through an Analysis of the Durban Aerotropolis in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa analysed how Regional Economic Development,is conceptualised and enacted. As such, her doctoral thesis provides an account of how, in the context of the Durban Aerotropolis, the region is conceptualised as an inherent notion in the Regional Economic Development approach.
‘My study explores the enactment of Regional Economic Development by examining the governance mechanisms of the aerotropolis project and interrogates the dynamics of agglomeration and clustering of businesses through the aerotropolis. Furthermore, regional marketing is considered as a critical component of the enactment of Regional Economic Development by uncovering the various efforts that have been co-ordinated by stakeholders to ensure that the Durban Aerotropolis is better positioned to attract foreign and local investment,’ said Luthuli.
Looking to the future, Luthuli is looking forward to exploring her specialist path and more importantly, changing the mindset that aviation and airport cities planning is a man’s field by proving that understanding the economics behind aviation can just as easily be a woman’s job. This is a call to action to inspire other women to break the glass ceiling and get involved in aviation and economics.
‘At this point, I am really torn between staying in academia and seeking opportunities in industry. It would be amazing to work for either the Department of Economic Development or Department of Trade and Investment at a national level more so with regards to my specialist knowledge in the area of economic development, cluster and agglomeration economics as well as industrial policy. However, I have my sights set on ACSA, the Dube Trade Port or Ekurhuleni for my expertise within the airport metropolis space or what is popularly known as aerotropolis. Women are in fact needed in this space and the world is currently my oyster in all kinds of ways,’ said Luthuli.
Words: Thandiwe Jumo firstname.lastname@example.org
Photograph: Rogan Ward