Lack of maintenance contract grounds SAAF C-208 Caravans

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The SA Air Force (SAAF) has had to ground its Cessna 208 Caravan light transport aircraft with age and funding cited as guilty partners.

The high-wing, single-engined aircraft have been in service at Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof-based 41 Squadron since 1988 when they were bought new and put onto the South African register ahead of being taken into the air force inventory.

The grounding comes as no surprise, with Armscor noting at the end of a maintenance contract in December 2021 the eight-strong Caravan fleet is 40 years old and requires “a midlife upgrade to cater for obsolete avionics”. Concern was also raised as regards funding, with six aircraft catered for and additional funds needed for the remaining two. A new maintenance contract, as per Armscor, was to be adjudicated last April.

Responding to a weekend newspaper inquiry, the Directorate Corporate Communication (DCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) confirmed the grounding, stating it led to “limited exposure” for aircrew. DCC Brigadier-General Andries Mahapa added the SAAF was “awaiting placement of a product support contract” for the light transports and “recommended” the questioner “reach out” to Minister Thandi Modise’s Department of Defence (DoD) acquisition agency – Armscor.

As far as can be ascertained the C-208 maintenance contract, which expired in December 2021, was awarded to Aircraft Maintenance @ Work and extended by three months to end March 2022.

City Press reported 32 pilots on the strength of the AFB Waterkloof squadron have not flown for “more than two years due to Armscor’s failure to repair and maintain” the C-208s.

It quotes unnamed “military leaders” saying the “non-performance of Armscor rendered the SAAF completely paralysed and a company was recently awarded a contract for maintenance of SAAF equipment, even though it had not met prescribed requirements”. The report further has it: “The terms of the contract were changed and the boards unilaterally waived the 30% localisation requirements [as per broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) regulations], which reversed the transformation programme of the DoD and government.”

The father of a 41 Squadron pilot said the Caravans have been grounded since the beginning of the year with no flying “predicted” for the rest of the 2023 calendar year.

SAAF pilots reportedly have to fly at least once every three months to maintain basic general flying currency. This doesn’t include other operational type currencies such as weapons and night/display flying with individual SAAF directorates (fighter, helicopter and transport/maritime) having own currency requirements.

There was, at the time of publishing, no Armscor response to the City Press report.