A total of 18 South Africa Police Service (SAPS) helicopters, around half the current fleet, are grounded for routine inspection and maintenance.
At the moment 43% of police helicopters are undergoing routine maintenance and upgrading, “which is a normal process to ensure the safety of our flight crew and in line with Civil Aviation standards,” said Captain Dennis Adriao, SAPS National Spokesperson. “Service delivery is not being compromised during this period of maintenance and upgrading.”
Several weeks ago, it was reported that 15 of the 37 helicopters belonging to the SAPS Air Wing had been grounded, awaiting routine inspection. “This is a waste of a valuable crime fighting resource,” stated Dianne Kohler Barnard, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister of Police. She said that information sent to the DA indicated that a further three SAPS Air Wing helicopters in Cape Town are in the hangar awaiting repairs.
Earlier this month Eyewitness News received confirmation from police spokesperson Lindela Mashigo that 15 helicopters were grounded for routine inspection while 22 aircraft were available. Mashigo said that no provinces were affected by the grounding.
Kohler Barnard said that the SAPS and Armscor have made a hash of the maintenance plan and tendering process for police helicopters.
It was reported earlier this year that the police decided to use Armscor to manage its tender process around the maintenance of helicopters due to its track record in facilitating product support for aircraft. According to the Armscor tender bulletin, despite numerous calls for tenders, only five tenders were awarded in 2011 and three in 2012.
In terms of the SAPS helicopters, there were two requests for quotations placed this year for product support services: one for the McDonnell Douglas MD500 and one for the Robinson R44. No tenders for the SAPS helicopter maintenance have been awarded to date.
Last May the police via Armscor issued RFQs to 11 companies for product support services for its fleet of six Robinson R44 and one McDonnell Douglas MD500 helicopters: Denel Aviation, Pilatus, Turbomeca Africa, Execujet Maintenance, Comair Sales, Precision Aviation Services, Mtha Aviation, Pilatus PC12 Centre SA, Lemang Aviation Support, Greystone Aviation and Ado Air Aviation.
News reports subsequently claimed that the RFQs were withdrawn due to controversy within the police. But Mashigo in February told Afrikaans daily Beeld the delay was the result of a rethink. After determining the initial tenders specifications, it was decided to group the aircraft by manufacturer. As a result, seven RFQs were issued.
It was also the first time Armscor was to handle a police airwing product support contract. Mashigo told Beeld the police decided on Armscor because of its track record with facilitating product support for air force systems and quality control.
By February some 11 to 15 helicopters were grounded, the Afrikaans daily reported. This reportedly included 10 of 13 BO-105 helicopters, five of 15 AS350 Squirrel’s and the sole remaining BK-117, all Eurocopter products.
The Democratic Alliance said that the Robinson R44s which the SAPS purchased for the World Cup are apparently yet to be used. “It appears that these specialised helicopters were bought without putting a plan in place for its maintenance,” Kohler Barnard said. However, Adriao stated that, “the Robinson R44 helicopters mentioned, are being successfully utilised after the 2010 Soccer World Cup with a total of 4 755.5 operational flying hours thus far.”
Kohler Barnard reported that the spokesperson for Minister Mthethwa stated yesterday that the helicopters are “instruments of our trade, which enable police to fight crime” and “we therefore support our management when they properly manage the fleet and, further, encourage them to do so”.
Kohler Barnard will ask parliament why SAPS helicopters have not been maintained, how many aircraft are grounded and in need of maintenance and the status of the service contracts for the helicopters.
“The SAPS Air Wing provides a valuable resource in the fight against crime. These helicopters should not be sitting around in the hangars waiting for the SAPS to decide who should be given a contract to maintain them. They need to be in the sky tracking down the criminals who terrorise our communities,” she concluded.
Adriao stated that SAPS helicopters are used to supply air support to forces on the ground, for day-to-day policing and crime prevention operations.