Denel’s troubles delaying maintenance of SAAF aircraft


The liquidity crisis within Denel is hampering the maintenance of South African Air Force (SAAF) aircraft, including the Rooivalk and Oryx helicopters and C-130 Hercules transports.

Armscor, in a presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans on 16 February, said Denel’s liquidity crisis meant subcontractors were requesting full payments before commencing any work, resulting in Armscor having to pay them directly.

Denel is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the Rooivalk and Oryx and an accredited service centre for the C-130 Hercules. It has a R1 billion contract to service the Rooivalk fleet between April 2019 and April 2022.

There is full capacity and additional personnel at Denel Aeronautics providing a full array of services required in the Product System Support contract. However, the lack of funding to procure spares is hampering the delivery of aircraft and components, Armscor said.

Of the 11 Rooivalks in the fleet, seven are currently unserviceable and four serviceable. The SAAF budget caters mainly for fixed costs and there is limited provision for on demand funds that are required to get unserviceable Line Replacement Units serviceable. “Lack of on demand funds is negatively impacting aircraft availability,” Armscor said.

Denel Aeronautics has a R1.2 billion contract to maintain the 39-strong Oryx fleet, between April 2019 and end March 2022. Like with the Rooivalk, there are limited funds to get Line Replacement Units serviceable, and this is negatively impacting aircraft availability. Seventeen Oryx are currently unserviceable, while 18 are undergoing maintenance, two are in long-term storage, and two have been written off.

Three of the C-130BZ Hercules are undergoing maintenance, while just one is airworthy. Denel Aeronautics has a R350 million contract valid from December 2018 to end June 2022 to maintain these aircraft but Armscor notes that the SAAF budget for the C-130 needs to be increased in order to ensure better serviceability.

“Due to the age of the aircraft, there are certain obsolete items and this adds to the higher cost to maintain the system. Also due to the low budget, high cost overhaul items such as engines are delayed which has a direct impact on the serviceability of the aircraft,” Armscor said. It added that there is limited maintenance, repair and overhaul (capacity) at Air Force Base Waterkloof, which is manned primarily by Denel Aeronautics. With this limited capacity there is always a backlog of servicing of C130BZ aircraft. This issue relates primarily to the shortage in funding.

The PCDMV heard that only 46 of the SAAF’s 217 aircraft are currently serviceable. Armscor put the blame on the liquidity crisis at Denel, the SAAF’s reduced budget, ageing aircraft that require more maintenance, and COVID-19 related disruptions.

Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, Chief of the SAAF, told the PCDMV that the situation is “very dire” and that the decline of Denel is one of the biggest risks to the SAAF. “Denel is the original equipment manufacture of most of our aircraft systems, specifically the rotary capability…Denel is the original equipment manufacturer of the Rooivalk and also they are supporting us in terms of C-130 for servicing. What we are watching on the horizon is a great worry for us. If Denel actually goes under, we have thin opportunities, or manoeuvring space, to continue doing business…This compounds the challenges we are facing at the moment.”