Many of the maintenance contracts for South African Air Force (SAAF) aircraft have either expired or are about to, and Armscor is currently evaluating fresh bids for a number of aircraft support contracts.
In a presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans on 16 February, Armscor detailed the status of SAAF aircraft maintenance contracts, and revealed that only 46 of the SAAF’s 217 aircraft are serviceable.
Denel Aeronautics, as the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the Rooivalk and Oryx helicopters, has a number of support contracts. However, its maintenance, repair and overhaul contracts for the C-130BZ Hercules, Oryx, and Rooivalk either expired on 31 December 2021 or will expire at the end of next month, and Armscor has issued Request For Bids for these. Denel has requested the extension of the Request For Bids to allow them to respond.
With regard to the VIP fleet, South African Airways Technical has a R160 million contract (1 April 2020-30 November 2022) to maintain the Presidential Boeing Business Jet (BBJ). The aircraft underwent a C Check and is due back in service by 28 March. Armscor notes the BBJ is only funded until 31 March 2022 and “if the Financial Authority (FA) is not approved on time this poses a risk as at 1 April 2022. The lack of multi-year funding remains a challenge on the Product Support System contracts especially for the BBJ.”
FlyHigh Aviation received a R160 million contract to maintain the Falcon 50 and 900 aircraft (1 April 2019 to 31 March 2022). At present, one Falcon 50 is serviceable and available to the SAAF while another Falcon 50 and the Falcon 900 are undergoing maintenance. Armscor’s Request For Bid for a new maintenance contract closed on 4 February; the order is expected to be placed in the 2022/23 financial year.
Armscor noted that Project Moagi, to acquire new VIP aircraft, remains unfunded, resulting in the SAAF continuing to fly ‘vintage’ VVIP aircraft.
The other VIP aircraft in the fleet is the Pilatus PC-12. FlyHigh Aviation received a R22 million contract to support the PC-12 between September 2020 and August 2022 but the aircraft will become unserviceable on 25 February 2022 “due to a scheduled replacement of life limited components.”
Used mainly for personnel transport, the SAAF has four King Airs in its fleet. Their support contract expires on 31 March 2022 and Armscor is busy with the procurement process to appoint a new contractor. Aircraft Maintenance At Work was given a R24 million contract to maintain the aircraft between April 2019 and March 2022. Lack of funding has resulted in the SAAF only maintaining three out of four aircraft. Additional funds are required to service the other King Air 300 aircraft; the budget is insufficient to complete the avionics upgrade of the King Air 300 as well as to standardise the engine.
Armscor stated that the deferred Project Kiepie needs to be funded to ensure the fleet is replaced with cost-effective modern utility aircraft. Similarly, Project Metsi, for new maritime patrol aircraft, needs to be funded – it is currently deferred. Project Metsi was planned to replace the C-47TP fleet.
There is currently no C-47TP support contract in place and Armscor is currently busy with the procurement process to appoint a contractor. The defence materiel agency notes that the C-47 fleet has been in SAAF service since 1943 and requires major upgrades to cater for obsolete avionics.
Also on the fixed wing side, Armscor is currently evaluating bids for Cessna Caravan maintenance contracts, with a decision expected in April. This is after the R22 million contract with Aircraft Maintenance at Work came to an end on 31 December 2021.
Out of eight Caravans, five are serviceable, two are in storage and one is unserviceable, according to Armscor. Lack of funding has resulted in the SAAF only maintaining six aircraft. Additional funds are required to service the other two aircraft, Armscor notes. “The budget is insufficient and allocation per year has to be revised to be in line with the maintenance planning requirements.”
The CASA 212 maintenance contract with Airbus South Africa expired on 31 Dec 2021. Airbus requested an extension of the Request For Bid and Armscor is busy with the contractor source selection process, with an order expected to be placed in the new 2022/23 Financial Year. Two out of three aircraft are serviceable while one aircraft is undergoing maintenance.
The contract for the support of the PC-7 Mk II turboprop trainer fleet expires in January 2023. Pilatus received a R61 million support contract for these aircraft for 2020-2023 but reduced funding has resulted in the SAAF only maintaining a few aircraft. Additional funds are required to service the fleet to increase availability. Out of 35 aircraft, 16 are in long-term storage, around ten are awaiting spares and five are serviceable.
On the rotary wing side, none of the four Lynx naval helicopters are serviceable, although a R151 million contract is in place with Leonardo Helicopters and LHTEC until early 2023. Armscor said COVID-19 affected the operations of the airframe OEM (Leonardo UK) and engine OEM (LHTEC USA) in servicing the SAAF requirements and as a result the fleet is unserviceable. “The Lynx aircraft are awaiting spares. Due to the late Financial Authority (FA) approval, the long lead items will not be delivered in the 21/22 financial year but mid 22/23 financial year.”
The Agusta A109 fleet support contracts expired in 2021 and Armscor is currently evaluating bids received. Leonardo Helicopters previously received a R250 million airframe maintenance contract from December 2018 to December 2021 while Safran Helicopter Engines received a R60 million maintenance contract for August 2018 to September 2021. At present, three A109s are serviceable; 21 are undergoing maintenance, five are beyond economical repair and one is being rebuilt.
“Lack of multi-year funding has made it difficult to plan and undertake repairs/overhauls of long lead items (e.g. tail gearboxes, floatation gear, engines). The budget is insufficient and allocation per year has to be revised to be in line with the maintenance planning requirements,” Armscor stated. Of general concern is that the fleet is 20 years old and requires a midlife upgrade to cater for mandatory engine maintenance as well as avionics upgrades.
The BK 117 Product System Support contract expires on 31 March 2022. There is currently no order/extension beyond 31 March as there is insufficient budget for maintenance. Airbus Southern Africa currently has the BK 117 maintenance contract, worth R171 million between April 2018 and March 2022. Out of six aircraft, three are serviceable, two are awaiting spares and one is unserviceable.
Armscor is currently negotiating with Saab on a more affordable support contract for the 26 grounded Gripen fighter jets as the current offer is “unaffordable”.
A product system support contract for the Hawk lead-in fighter-trainers is in place and remains valid until 30 August 2024 – this is with BAE Systems and is worth R250 million. However, the current funding provided by the SAAF is to maintain nine aircraft – additional funding will be required to maintain the full complement of 24 aircraft that was procured. Of the 24, 12 are in long-term storage, three are beyond economical repair, two are grounded and seven are operational.