The SA Police Service says its Air Wing is growing in fleet size but the expansion to better fight crime is hampered by a global shortage of pilots and technicians.
In a written answer to a question asked in Parliament, the police say they have acquired 13 Eurocopter AS350 and six Robinson R44 helicopters since 2000 as well as a Pilatus PC12, a Learjet 31 and a Cessna Sovereign.
The Air Wing is also in the process of replacing its old forward looking infrared (FLIR) cameras with new generation Carl Zeiss Optronics devices.
But the availability of the rotorcraft are bedeviled by a global skills shortage in the aviation industry.
“There is a huge shortage of skilled pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers worldwide,” the Parliamentary answer, approved by police minister Nathi Mthethwa, reads.
“The SAPS Air Wing is no exception and pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers are constantly lured to the private sector with better remunerative packages and well-structured career paths.”
Another answer, also approved by Mthethwa, says police pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers are receiving scarcity allowances in an effort to retain their specialized skills.
“The SAPS Air Wing has embarked on its own training programme for pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers to fill the gap. Five helicopter pilots who were trained by the SAPS Air Wing have already qualified to function as Pilots-in-Command of SAPS helicopters. Five more are still being trained.”
The police air wing currently musters 32 helicopters, including two Raven helicopters delivered last month. A further four will be delivered later this year.
As a result “aircraft in the Air Wing are limited to only two or three per province and need to be managed with great care.”
“From time to time, it is necessary to move resources from one province to another to maintain an efficient aerial policing capacity.”
“All the provincial units have been allocated at least two aircraft to enable them to render a more effective service. The structure of the units has been amended so that all the units, except for the Port Elizabeth Air Wing, have at least two pilots and crew. The Eastern Cape has two provincial units with one in Port Elizabeth and the other one in Bulembu near Bhisho.”