It appears better use is being made of the minimal funding allocated to the SA Air Force (SAAF) which now wants parts for its Cessna Caravans and “ad-hoc maintenance” for its King Airs.
There are currently two Armscor tenders running for these products and services which should, in the not too distant future, see at least some of the remaining eight Caravans airworthy again. The closing date for submission of tenders is 31 May.
The other SAAF tender sees Armscor looking for suppliers of “ad-hoc maintenance for the SAAF Beechcraft King Air fleet” with a closing date of 21 May. No further details are provided and potential suppliers of this service have to Armscor’s procurement secretariat.
The SAAF received 12 Cessna 208 Caravans during 1988 and 1989. These were initially placed on the civilian register with no military insignia and operated by 41 Squadron. In early 1994, the aircraft eventually received SAAF serials and insignia.
Of the 12 Caravans delivered, four were written-off, leaving eight in service. Although modified for the military roles of light transport, general utility and reconnaissance/observation, they are maintained by an external maintenance organisation.
41 Squadron also operates four Beechcraft King Airs – three 200C Super King Airs acquired in the 1980s and a model 300 Super King Air acquired in 1994. These aircraft were also initially on the civilian register prior to receiving SAAF serials and all are maintained by an external maintenance organisation.
Both Caravans and King Airs have been maintained by Lanseria-based Execujet Maintenance for quite some time as a result of them winning various tenders over the years. Execujet also maintained other SAAF aircraft.
For the last couple of years, aircraft availability in the SAAF and hours flown took a serious knock as a result of a double whammy. The cancellation in 2013 and gradual withdrawal of experienced maintenance technicians provided by Denel business unit Aero Manpower Group (AMG) and the continuous – and disastrous – reduction in the SAAF budget.
The last AMG personnel left in 2017 and while VIP aircraft were the most affected, the lack of qualified and skilled personnel was felt throughout the air force.
The lack of sufficient maintenance funding only added to the woes of the air force, as the SAAF could not afford to employ skilled technicians. Additionally it takes years for newly graduated technicians to gain all the necessary skills and competencies to work unsupervised and sign off maintenance and repair work undertaken.
The continual decrease in funding available for maintenance over the past decade had a knock-on effect in postponing critical maintenance and overhaul activities as well as delaying awarding of new maintenance contracts to external maintenance organisations like Execujet. This resulted in many aircraft being grounded and being robbed of parts to keep a limited number of other aircraft flying. Other aircraft were grounded because there simply are insufficient funds to either purchase new spares or to send the affected item overseas for overhaul. This is most noticeable in the SAAF transport fleet.
Without additional funding, no new maintenance contracts can be awarded and transport aircraft like the Caravans, King Airs and 21 Squadron’s VIP fleet will remain grounded, as they have been for well over a year.