SAAF acquisition of SAA aircraft was on the table


More information on the now denied sale or transfer of three South African Airways (SAA) aircraft to the SA Air Force (SAAF) indicates what can be termed “exploratory talks” did take place.

The apparent acquisition by the SAAF of three SAA Airbus A340s “slipped” into the public domain as margin notes in a speech delivered by outgoing Chief of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang (he did not verbally mention the aircraft or their possible acquisition during his retreat parade at AFB Zwartkop on 30 September).

Now it appears when the business rescue practitioners (BRPs) for the national airline launched the tender for the sale of the A340s in January, the Department of Defence (DoD) “expressed an interest in acquiring some of the aircraft”.

“A few days before Msimang retired, a DPE (Department of Public Enterprises) official asked the BRPs to finalise the transaction with the DoD. The BRPs pointed out this would contravene PFMA (Public Finance Management Act) requirements and the rules governing tenders. The rules require the BRPs assess all offers received to determine which one is in SAA’s best interest. The BRPs agreed to schedule a meeting with officials from the DoD and DPE, but it was cancelled when the DoD failed to respond. Ironically, it was scheduled for the same day as General Msimang’s retirement parade,” the BRPs told a reliable defenceWeb source.

As far as taking any Airbus commercial airliners into SAAF service is concerned, the opinion of a former senior air force officer, charged with transport and maritime at one stage of his SAAF career, is well worth repeating.

“When selecting a commercial airframe (for whatever reason), all limitations of the design drivers…must be understood.

“If one then decides to modify such a system, life cycle costing regarding issues with the OEM (original equipment manufacturer), would almost play an overriding role, as the real money is in the through-life-support. This includes issues such as design, integration and certification of the entire system, airworthiness directives, technical publications, upgrades for redundancy management, certified spares, components and on and on.

“This is the real issue, as it would be a unique, small fleet of hybrids operated in all likelihood, 10 000 km away from the OEM,” the retired brigadier general posted on the unofficial SAAF website.

He lists commercial design difference as being designed for maximum profit, well-developed routes and sophisticated airports, operating from long paved clean runways, having long and narrow fuselages, maximum seating configuration, high cruising speeds, low wings to save weight and improve aerodynamics, undercarriage and engines on wings, payload decks high and unstressed, several small access doors and typically four turbojet engines low off ground.

Against this, the military design is optimisation for troops and heavy/bulky specialised loads, the ability to operate in and out of unsophisticated, semi- and unprepared surfaces, operate in and out of airfields with little or no airside infrastructure, the ability to airdrop troops/cargo or offload without ground support, short, wide and strong (stressed) payload decks, large cargo doors back and front, low payload decks (stressed) and high wings, high flotation gear for ground manoeuvrability, engines in or flush under wings, undercarriage in or side of fuselage, and typically four turboprop engines.