Aerospace and Defence Masterplan sees big potential for civil aviation sector


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused carnage in the commercial and civil aviation sector, but the shakeup resulting from the pandemic also presents new opportunities for South Africa.

This is according to the 2020 Aerospace and Defence Masterplan, which notes that demand for new aircraft from the major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is expected to remain very subdued in 2021, with some potential for increase in 2022. As airlines continue to struggle, they are likely to cut new acquisitions and either sell aircraft or keep older aircraft in service. The current in-service airliner fleet globally is 20 300, with smaller aircraft being deployed more widely as passenger loads decreased from 82% in 2019 to 65% in 2020.

With older aircraft remaining in service, the Masterplan sees this as an opportunity for South Africa to position itself as the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider of choice to the sub-Saharan market. The option of significantly improving returns by increasing the capacity utilisation of smaller regional aircraft on the subcontinent suggests the opportunities for South Africa to re-assess its investment in, and commitment to, the development and sale of already designed and tested aircraft.

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The Masterplan believes the South African industry can get ready for a resurgence of demand, with the establishment of the Centurion Aerospace Village (CAV) one of those initiatives. Development of the Centurion Aerospace Village has been moving forward for a decade. The facility will, once activated, be able to offer a highly attractive competitive package to local and international OEM investors, layered across many levels, and building on existing competitive advantage ready to be unlocked, the Masterplan said. “Key barriers here are largely linked to non-alignment across essential national departments with regard to releasing land and similar easy to fix issues.”

The architects of the Masterplan believe that regulatory processes can further aviation development. With effective South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) processes, the industry has significant potential to grow, even under COVID-19 lockdown and post lockdown conditions. “At the same time, training of pilots (drone and other), the fast tracking of local South African Drone capability, as well as MRO activities, represent significant opportunities for job creation, SMME development and transformation.”

The Masterplan sees potential in the development of a small regional aircraft for the post-COVID era and the commercialisation of light reconnaissance aircraft.

“While Drones may fit in the military as well as the civilian/other government sub sectors, major growth is expected in non-military applications in the short term,” the Masterplan noted. “South Africa has access to technology and markets and is in a position to substantially leverage its assets to take a strong regional and export (as well as local market) position in the design, manufacture, testing, piloting and maintenance of drones, which are used in a large number of applications ranging from the delivery of critical medical supplies to remote areas, to the delivery of pizza to a local suburb. Data are collected by drones which ensure that policy and decision makers in the State sector as well as financial services (insurance), agriculture, and many others have real time data and information which ensures best decision making, and allows for pre-emptive action prior to natural disasters, fish poaching and other similar governance and management needs. The fast-growing sub sector also demonstrates significant options for transformation, skills repurposing for the digital economy.”

The Masterplan stated that a critical element for South African industry is to become part of global OEM supply chains, and to incentivise local production as part of those chains, insofar as possible. Companies like Aerosud are already big contributors to the global airline production supply chain.

For more on this subject, consider attending the SAAMDEC/defenceWeb Aerospace and Defence Masterplan webinar on 25 May.

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