The Department of Defence and Military Veterans says the South African Air Force is now flying supply runs for the state-owned Petroleum, Oil and Gas Corporation of South Africa (PetroSA) to and from its offshore gas platform at Mossel Bay on the south coast.
Head of communication Siphiwe Dlamini says he could confirm the move first reported in the Afrikaans daily, Beeld. Dlamini says the SAAF is flying the shuttle service with effect from July 1 in terms of a letter of request from the Department of Energy, PetroSA’s shareholder.
“We complied because part of our mandate is to assist other government departments,” Dlamini said. He added the flights were infrequent.
But Beeld reported that Indwe Aviation, part of the Titan Helicopter Group, transported about 1000 passengers a month between George and the platform some 85km offshore, using two Sikorsky S61 Sea King helicopters. The S61 can carry 19 passengers and baggage. Indwe CE Martin Steynberg told the paper its contract, worth R40 to R60 million, was valid to 2013.
Indwe Aviation has reportedly been seeking to conclude a long-term contract with PetroSA for a number of years. They have been providing the service to PetroSA since they took over the contract from CHC Helicopters which withdrew from South Africa in December 2007. PetroSA have issued a number of tenders in the last six years for the supply of air services to the offshore platform, but all had been cancelled due to cost of providing the service. PetroSA has continued to study ways of obtaining the service at less cost.
The offshore service had been provided by CHC and subsequently Indwe Aviation from the PetroSA-owned base at George Airport. The two rotorcraft and another based in Cape Town as a standby aircraft in case of emergency are equipped for offshore flying in all weather conditions and ferry crew and maintenance workers to and from the platform throughout the week. They would also be used for emergency evacuation from the platform.
Indwe Aviation applied to the Cape High Court on Monday for an urgent interdict preventing PetroSA from asking a third party to provide the offshore services. Beeld reported on Monday that in the court papers it is said the reason the SAAF took over the service was because piracy was apparently a real threat along the African east coast.
In addition the platform is of national importance and must be protected at all cost. It is not clear from the Beeld report who made these claims and on what evidence. The court papers further add that it had been decided at the “highest level” that the SAAF had to assist because of the “threat to national security” any delay would mean.
The paper adds that Indwe operated under strict SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) regulation that prescribed specific pilot training and insurance. Steynberg says his pilots needed 3000 flying hours including 1000 related to offshore platforms. The company was also require to have insurance of R1 million per seat. The SAAF are exempt from SACAA regulation and require passengers to waive liability. The SAAF does, however, have very high safety standards.
The paper adds that there is unspecified legislation stating that the military cannot conduct a service for commercial gain or where a civil service provider is available.