SAAF revamps pilot training


The South African Air Force has revamped its pilot training system and contracted the Midrand-based Babcock Central Flying Academy to provide it elementary flying training on a Cessna 172 side-by-side seat aircraft.

The Engineering News and Beeld newspaper reports the system is “in line with international practices” and is considered cheaper, safer and more efficient than the current system that sees pupil pilots trained on high-performance Pilatus PC7 MkII Astra turboprops.  

Speaking to the media ahead of a parade that saw 19 pilots awarded their coveted “wings”, Gagiano confirmed the SAAF had outsourced pupils` first 70 flying hours.  

The tender was issued in June. Babcock is contracted to provide the service to the SAAF until December next year.

Gagiano has been seeking a side-by-side trainer for the service for some time. In June 2007 the defence department said the SAAF was looking at acquiring 12 aircraft worth R2-3 million each to self-provide the training.

The SAAF is reluctant to acquire new aircraft so soon after receiving new fighter aircraft and helicopters and Gagiano was keen on leasing the aircraft as this would be an operational rather than capital expense.

But a study found leasing would be more expensive than buying.

The Engineering News reports today the SAAF is “in a process of leasing such an aircraft for a period of five years” anyways.

“However, the materialisation of this leasing would take about two-and-a-half years, during which time Babcock would undertake the initial training,” the publication added.

Under the new system pilots will fly about 70 hours with Babcock in a Cessna 172 aircraft and qualify for a private pilot`s licence.

From there, students would go through the second and third phases of training and will need to log a further 115 hours in military aircraft.

Deals with SAA and Denel

The SAAF has also entered into an agreement with national carrier South African

Airways (SAA) to train the airliner`s pilots, ground crew and cabin attendants.

Gagiano stated that by doing this, the industry would be stabilised with a current inflow of well-trained pilots, and would further give the SAAF access to more Reserves.

In addition, the SAAF is also stepping up collaboration with state arsenal Denel in line with a Cabinet decision that government and industry should combine efforts to sustain and ensure a strong aviation industry.

This as the SAAF continues to lose personnel mainly to the private sector, with 13 pilots and 74 technical staff leaving since January.

Over the past eight years 298 pilots have resigned from the SAAF along with 1684 technical non-commissioned and commissioned officers.
“The SAAF regards the integration and cooperation process with industry as an opportunity to strengthen and improve its total capability and effectiveness in the light of the ever-decreasing defence budget,” Gagiano said.

Gagiano repeated intentions stated in April at a similar briefing that Denel`s C130 Maintenance Repair Organisation will work jointly with the SAAF on repairs and maintenance of aircraft.

“The benefit for Denel would be lower overhead costs, while the SAAF would benefit from having its younger recruits working with more experienced staff, which would result in skills transfer. The agreement would also provide the SAAF with aircrews to join as reserve force members,” the Engineering News said.

Gagiano noted that in recognising the need to have an efficient, affordable and sustainable maintenance support for its operational systems, the SAAF has developed a new support vision with Denel Aviation.

This vision would be based on the principles that the SAAF would focus on its core business, while Denel Aviation would focus on assigned maintenance, repair and overhauling.


Beeld, Engineering News and Business Day add the SAAF is also currently in the process of re-evaluating its recruiting process, as well as well as the profiles of all musterings.

“In order to increase the recruitment pool of potential candidates, the SAAF will embark on a decentralised recruitment process as from January. This will enable SAAF Officers Commanding to recruit members from the geographical area in which each base is situated, and also to market the SAAF as employer of choice within the respective areas of responsibility.”

Business Day notes this marks a return to a strategy scrapped about nine years ago in favour of a common recruitment pool by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

“We`re still losing people at a tremendous rate, which is not sustainable,” he said at a media briefing on Friday. Although the resignations did not match the losses in the peak period around 2000, they still represented an upward trend.

“By selecting ourselves — by selecting the right people, the best people — we`re able to recruit more and train more and in the end they will fill the slots,” said Gagiano.

Failure to give this urgent attention would result in a continuous weakening of the air force, he said.

“We`re not recruiting enough to replace [departing personnel] so we are slowly but surely slipping backwards.”

Pic: The Hawk Mk120 lead-in fighter trainer simulator at 85 Advanced Combat Flying School at AFB Makhado, Limpopo Province.