Minister Modise reveals SAAF aircrew numbers

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The SA Air Force (SAAF) musters just short of 400 aircrew, with the majority of pilots in command (PICs) flying rotorcraft according to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise.

She told Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister for her portfolio, the airborne service resorting under Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo as of November this year has 320 pilots. Other flight deck occupants in SAAF platforms are – in addition to right hand seat occupants (for fixed wing aircraft and left hand for helicopters) – are 73 flight engineers (FEs), the men and women who wear half brevets on their chests (55 helicopter FEs and 18 air transport FEs).

Breaking down the SAAF pilot population for Marais, Modise told him in response to probably his final Parliamentary question of the calendar year, pilots for Agusta A109 light utility, BK117 light utility, Oryx medium transport, Rooivalk combat support and Super Lynx maritime helicopters numbered 156.

A further ninety-seven pilots are qualified and current to occupy the left hand seat of SAAF fixed wing transport aircraft. Included in the transport inventory are Beechcraft King Airs, CASA C212 Aviocars, Cessna C208 Caravans, Dakota C47-TPs, Lockheed Martin C-130BZ Hercules, and a Pilatus PC-12. The remainder of the transport fleet resorts in the VIP squadron – 21 at Air Force Base (AFB) Waterkloof – comprising the Boeing 737-7ED Inkwazi, a Dassault Falcon 900 and a pair of Falcon 50 bizjets.

There are a further 33 men and women undergoing basic flying training (BFT).

Combat pilots for the Gripen and Hawk number 41, all based at AFB Makhado in the Limpopo province with either 2 Squadron or 85 Combat Flying School.

Modise told her questioner the airborne service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is “obligated” to train its pilots, as well as other air- and ground crew musterings, in accordance with international aviation standards. “This means pilots and FEs [flight instructors] must maintain stipulated currency levels which can only be achieved if platforms are serviceable and available.”

On “the state of our air assets” she indicated an additional R1 billion and United Nations (UN) reimbursements will go to “a structured intervention” of a total aircraft inventory that stood at an availability and serviceability figure of under 20% two months ago. Modise provided no timeline for this “intervention” to become functional.

“Actual and current” flight hours including “other requirements to maintain crew certification (currencies and competencies) for all SAAF flying directorates is 12 519 hours”, her response reads.