Denel opens Africa’s first Russian helicopter maintenance facility


Denel Aviation and Russian Helicopters yesterday opened the first servicing and repair facility for Russian helicopters on the African continent, during a ceremony at Denel Aviation’s facility in Kempton Park.

Denel Aviation is now the only company accredited to perform maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) work on Russian helicopters in Africa. Mike Kgobe, CEO of Denel Aviation, told defenceWeb that his company currently offers MRO services for Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters but services will in the future be extended to other helicopter models as dictated by market requirements.

During the ceremony yesterday evening, Denel Aviation unveiled an Mi-8T operated by Advanced Aviation Logistics SA, which is the launch customer for Denel’s new MRO services. The aircraft arrived in Kempton Park on March 24 and is scheduled to depart in the next week or so. Kgobe told defenceWeb that a number of operators have expressed interest in the MRO facility, with “two to three” close to being turned into options.

Denel and Russian Helicopters have already conducted joint road shows to market their collective capabilities and received positive feedback from operators in countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda who will most likely send their helicopters to Kempton Park for MRO services in the future, Denel said.

Kgobe noted that there are between 200 and 300 Russian helicopters flying in Sub-Saharan Africa and that Denel Aviation hoped to receive business from many of these operators. At the moment there are an estimated 350 Russian Helicopters rotorcraft flying in Africa. The total Russian-made helicopter fleet in Africa stands at around 600, comprising mainly Mi-8/17 and Ka-32 models.
“Such fleet maintenance requires the organization of a state-of-the-art service support system in the region”, said Dmitri Petrov, CEO of Russian Helicopters. “The MRO facility establishment by Denel Aviation became a big step in this direction. A large regional centre is to be based on the venture’s facilities and to subsequently perform after-sale and service maintenance of all the Russian Helicopters products in the sub-Saharan region.”

Denel began discussing the establishment of the MRO facility in 2009 and formally registered the project in October 2011. During Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) in September last year, Denel Aviation and Oboronprom (Russian Helicopters is an Oboronprom subsidiary) signed a partnership agreement, which was followed by Denel sending employees to Novosibirsk. Four certified maintenance technicians recently returned to South Africa. Ground support equipment arrived from Russia on March 8.

The Group Chief Executive of Denel, Riaz Saloojee, said he expected the partnership to grow and expand into other areas which might include the joint marketing of products and services on the continent as Denel expands its footprint and diversifies its revenue streams. Africa currently constitutes 27% of Denel total export sales of R1.33 billion.

Saloojee added that he was delighted to launch the Russian Helicopters MRO centre at a time that South Africa is hosting the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Durban. He said the defence seminar held on Monday before the summit would be the catalyst for many more opportunities to follow.
“Through the Brics alliance we see the prospects of new market opportunities opening up for Denel to confirm our position as a proudly African defence company that can also be a significant player on the global stage,” said the Chairman of the Denel Board, Zoli Kunene.

Denel Aviation is also an accredited service centre for Eurocopter and Lockheed Martin aircraft, including the C-130 Hercules. Kgobe told defenceWeb he was not allowed to say which countries have their C-130s with Denel Aviation but said that several nations have sent their C-130s to South Africa for maintenance and checks. “There is activity,” on the C-130 front, he said.

Denel Aviation has for the last several years been in discussions with Russian manufacturer Antonov regarding marketing its aircraft in Africa and establishing an MRO centre on the continent. However, Kgobe told defenceWeb that the partnership with Antonov has been paused for now as the majority of Antonov aircraft in Africa are not flying. After conducting a detailed analysis, Kgobe said that this initiative will be reviewed later.

With regard to the cancellation of the Aero Manpower Group contract with the South African Air Force, Kgobe said it was a “blow” from a revenue point. He noted that the SAAF has retained enough capacity to continue maintaining its aircraft. The contract ends on March 31.