The Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI) late last month met with three dozen aerospace and defence companies in Cape Town and Pretoria in an effort to educate interested parties on the Initiative’s mandate and see how it can help the industry overcome its numerous challenges.
The AISI team met with over a dozen companies in Cape Town on 24 February, including NewSpace Systems, SCS Space, Tellumat, Cape Aerospace Technologies and Tellumat. Two days later, over 30 representatives from aerospace and defence companies gathered at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria to hear the AISI communicate its strategy and progress with programmes, projects and interventions.
The AISI was established in 2005 by the Department of Trade and Industry to promote the capabilities, competitiveness and interests of the South African aerospace industry as well as partnerships between government, industry and academia, both locally and abroad. Particular focus areas include composite materials, titanium processing and manufacturing, avionics and certification to international standards. The AISI is also mandated to provide global market exposure to companies at events such as the biennial Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition.
The AISI is hosted by the CSIR and is fully government funded. Through the AISI and National Aerospace Centre, the Department of Trade and Industry provides funding and support to more than 150 aerospace organisations – the AISI provides some R20 million in annual funding.
Marie Botha, President of the Aeronautical Society of South Africa, explained there are some challenges from the AISI’s side, including a mandate that does not support basic research and development, only technology at higher readiness levels; there is a focus on advanced manufacturing only; and limited budget available for funding.
The AISI sees growth opportunities in South Africa’s lower tier suppliers and aims to open up further market opportunities there. Focus areas include aerostructures, propulsion, avionics, surveillance and sensor systems, information systems and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO).
The AISI will be raising awareness and promoting its activities at the Aeronautical Society of South Africa annual conference this year, SpaceOps conference in Cape Town in May and at the Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition in Pretoria in September. It also works with the Joint Aerospace Steering Committee and other entities – some of its main programmes are promoting aerospace through the Aerospace and Defence Masterplan and Commercial Aerospace Industry Development Strategy.
In its presentation, the AISI gave a summary of the size and scope of the South African aerospace industry. This covers 104 companies with a turnover of around R9.5 billion. Most of these companies (45) are involved in aerostructures production. Others (28) are in the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business with the remainder focussing on avionics (13), surveillance and sensors (7), propulsion (3) and other systems (8).
To grow the industry, the AISI said government needs to encourage foreign direct investment, particularly from super Tier 1 aerospace companies; consolidate and strengthen existing support mechanisms; develop the Centurion Aerospace Village (CAV) and Ekhuruleni Aerotropolis, and nurture small businesses. A key recommendation is establishing an entity to certify aircraft and aircraft components or modifications made or done in South Africa.
In reviewing progress from the 2018/19 financial year, the AISI highlighted projects from a number of companies, such as Lantern Engineering. The latter is a 100% black owned company that specialists in communications. It has an order for 500 software defined radios, with the possibility to grow that to 5 500 in five years.
Kutleng Dynamic Electronic Systems has designed and developed a smart camera for unmanned aerial vehicle and other use, and received a purchase order from Armscor after AISI support. LambdaG, another black owned company, was spun out of a previously AISI-supported project with NewSpace Systems and is using additive manufacturing to enable the development of a radio-frequency subassembly for small satellite applications.
The AISI has in the past assisted Jonker Sailplanes with flutter analysis on their JS1 and JS3 gliders – the company is now developing and manufacturing a 24 metre wingspan sailplane to compete in the European market.
Other projects highlighted by the AISI included industrialisation of aluminium casting technology developed at the University of Johannesburg for the production of aircraft engines (for Adept Airmotive); the design and development of an electronic power system and power control unit for nano-satellites (Space Advisory Company); the design and development of a medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle for commercial applications (Procept Works); industrialisation of a 40 kg Cape Aerospace Technologies micro gas turbine engine and development and implementation of aviation approved infrared thermographic non-destructive testing capabilities.
The AISI asked the industry for feedback on the challenges they are facing and how these can be overcome. Most companies agreed there is a need to reduce red tape, to create awareness around the aerospace and defence sectors, collaborate and advertise programmes and proposals. The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) in particular was singled out as being a major hurdle to the industry as companies are finding it harder and harder to gain export approvals.