Denel has completed a full scale mockup of its Small African Regional Aircraft (SARA) concept and hopes to have a real aircraft in the next two to three years.
This is according to Denel Group Acting Chief Executive Officer Zwelakhe Ntshepe, who said that, “we have progressed well on the Small African Regional Aircraft concept, and have developed a full scale mock-up as part of the R&D process. This is a national flagship project Denel is honoured to be involved in.
“The Small African Regional Aircraft provides us with an opportunity to collaborate with academics and post-graduate students at local universities to develop a technology demonstrator. Through this collaboration, we are creating exciting new possibilities for young engineers and artisans entering the industry.
“We hope, in the next two to three years, to have a real aircraft and not a mock-up,” Ntshepe said on Tuesday, and added that sponsorships are being offered for the development of the aircraft from other state owned enterprises.
Odwa Mhlwana, Denel’s Acting Group Chief Financial Officer, said that the company is pursuing partners and is venturing into the civil aviation space and is looking at partnering with fellow state owned entities that operate aircraft. The company is also looking at international partners.
Denel earlier this year finished the 1:1 SARA mockup, which is made of marine plywood and fibreglass. It was built at Denel’s Kempton Park facilities and funded by Denel and the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP) run by the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Research Foundation.
The SARA programme was launched two years ago as a way to retain South African aerospace design capacity and human capital. Engineering students, as well as Denel engineers, from North West University, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Rhodes University and the University of Pretoria are involved in the design of SARA with Denel Aviation and Denel Aerostructures, with the project being used for their masters projects.
Due to the rapid growth in air travel in Africa, Denel determined that there was a need for a modern, point-to-point regional airliner on low-density routes, seating 15 to 24 passengers. SARA, with a four-abreast seating configuration, will be pressurised, have a maximum take-off weight of 8 400 kg and a range of 2 600 km. Three different configurations are being considered: full passenger (maximum of 24 passengers), combi (12 seats and one LD2 container) and full cargo (three LD2 containers). Among the challenges will be to design a 15-passenger aircraft that will be able to take off and land on short airfields in regional centres that are currently not served by scheduled flights.
Mike Kgobe, CEO of Denel Aviation, earlier told defence Web that Denel, together with the Department of Public Enterprises, Department of Trade and Industry and Joint Aerospace Steering Committee, commissioned a study with Lufthansa Consulting, which presented their findings last year and validated the market potential of an aircraft in SARA’s class. “The study says there is a market for that, there is a business case for such an aircraft. They even gave us the payback period,” Kgobe said. The study also said the aircraft would have a national benefit and would create jobs, resuscitate industry etc.
The next stage is to draw up a business plan and project plan and seek international partners. “We have always said…this project is a South African project led by Denel but we see it as having other partners,” Kgobe said.