A109 costs climb


Support and other post-acquisition capital costs for the South African Air Force’s 29 AgustaWestland A109M light utility helicopters acquired for R2.451 billion as part of the 1999 strategic defence package (SDP) has topped R146.5 million since December 2006. The non-capital operating cost of the nimble but lightweight Italian rotorcraft is not immediately known.

The latest award to Agusta S.p.A. is R10 million for “on demand support” and R4 million to Turbomeca Africa (Pty) Ltd for “on demand support” for the rotorcraft’s Arrius 2K2 engine. Both were extensions of existing contracts. The business takes the bill for such support to R146 47888.50 according to defenceWeb calculation based on data on the Armscor Bulletin System.

Project Flange – the A109M light utility helicopter acquisition – was the black sheep of the 1999 Strategic Defence Package and was beset with difficulties and delays: By 2008 deliveries were four years late, leading to the imposition of a R90 million penalty, the only one imposed under the “arms deal” and offsets were tardy, although certified complete. The first delivery was made in October 2005 and the last around mid-2009.

An A109 was lost with its three crew members in May 2009 when it crashed into the Woodstock Dam while en route to a mountain flying exercise. An A109 was damaged in a hard landing near Potchefstroom in the Northwest Province n November last year and another near Ballito on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast a month later.

The A109 replaced the Sud Aviation (later Aerospatiale, Eurocopter) Alouette III. It was, from the start a controversial choice, selected in favour of the Bell 427 (Canada), and the Franco/German Eurocopter Cougar as well as the Eurocopter EC635. Thirty were ordered with an option for ten more. Tellingly, this was not exercised.

Air Force chief Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano has said the SAAF required the type to take pressure off the Denel M1 Oryx medium utility fleet. The service has long had the need for a platform more capable than the Alouette III but less expensive and more efficient than the Oryx for the bulk of taskings. The A109 was expected to fill that niche – and replace the Eurocopter BK-117, which would then be passed on to the SA Police Service Air Wing.

In January Gagiano said the SAAF was investigating the future use of the helicopter. At a press briefing at the Air Force Day Parade held at Swartkop airfield near Centurion on January 28, Gagiano said the SAAF is holding on to its BK-117s and was looking to define a new role for the A109. “We have quite a large number of these helicopters (the A109) and indeed, we have to define a new role for them because they cannot really do the work of a BK-117,” Gagiano said.

Although one of the stated uses of the new helicopter was for pilot training, the SAAF was experiencing a critical lack of qualified flying instructors soon after the initial aircraft were delivered. As a consequence, in mid-2006 the SAAF outsourced basic helicopter flying training to Starlight Aviation in Durban. At the time, it was rumoured that the A109, with its advanced avionics and equipment, was too complex to convert newly qualified pilots onto helicopters.

The Air Force announced in March 2007 that the A109 had been cleared for command-and-control, casevac, trooping and cargo-slinging duties. The helicopter is capable of being equipped with a search light, FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red), external hoist and a cargo-sling. However, operational reports suggest the type is, depending on one’s point of view, underpowered or alternatively too heavy with too low a payload to fully fulfil these tasks. The helicopter can neither carry operational loads in high heat conditions nor fly in strong wind. Other reports suggest that a fully-charged battery is required as the helicopter cannot be started manually, but the battery has a habit of going flat. Despite this, the crew love flying the A109.

On demand support for the A109 Light Utility Helicopter System of the SA Air Force – extension of ELGS/2006/215

LGS/S2010/4689 13 Apr 2011 R10 000 000,00 Agusta S.p.A.

LGS/S2010/4621 24 Feb 2011 R4 000 000,00 Agusta S.p.A.

LGS/S2010/4439 21 Jul 2010 R3 500 000,00 Agusta S.p.A.

LGS/S2009/2492 4 Mar 2010 R7 000 000,00 Agusta S.p.A.

LGS/S2009/4013 17 Sep 2009 R9 500 000,00 Agusta S.p.A.

LGS/S2008/3840 20 Nov 2008 R9 800 000,00 Agusta S.p.A.

LGS/S2007/3526 12 Oct 2007 R8 761 989,34 Agusta S.p.A.

On demand support of the Arrius 2K2 engine for the aircraft 209 light utility helicopter – extension of ELGS/2006/478

LGS/S2010/4678 13 Apr 2011 R4 000 000,00 Turbomeca Africa (Pty) Ltd

LGS/S2009/4324 14 Apr 2010 R2 584 748,34 Turbomeca Africa (Pty) Ltd

LGS/S2009/3983 12 Jun 2009 R2 700 000,00 Turbomeca Africa (Pty) Ltd

LGS/2008/3768 31 Jul 2008 R4 385 965,00 Turbomeca Africa (Pty) Ltd

LGS/S2007/3658 21 Feb 2008 R95 238,60 Turbomeca Africa (Pty) Ltd

LGS/S2007/3450 2 Aug 2007 R3 827 200,00 Turbomeca Africa (Pty) Ltd

Equipment and services for the Agusta Aircraft 109 light utility helicopters

EFLA/2009/578 22 Sep 2010 R1 470 011,16 Agusta S.p.A.

A109 light utility helicopter flight controls and communication system update

EFLA/2008/87 4 Dec 2008 R17 245 868,98 Agusta S.p.A.

Procurement of spares, ground support and test equipment for the Agusta A109 light utility helicopter

EFLA/2007/600 16 Oct 2008 R48 607 864,08 Avionic Systems CC

Turbomeca Africa (Pty) Ltd

Agusta S.p.A.

On demand support for the A109 Light Utility Helicopter System of the SA Air Force.

ELGS/2006/215 21 Dec 2006 R9 000 000,00 Agusta S.p.A.