The number of hours SA Air Force (SAAF) platforms spent aloft during the 2020/21 financial year was just over 13 700 – 80% of the 17 100 set as the target.
In the previous financial year the airborne arm of the national defence force also failed to reach the 17 200 targeted flying hours set. Hours flown in that year were better, at 16 232 – 94.4% of target – than reported in the latest Department of Defence (DoD) annual report.
As is customary, the annual report does not provide any detail on which types recorded which hours, only allocating hours to force preparation and employment as well as VVIP transport.
For the 2020/21 financial year, 10 488 hours were logged in force preparation, 2 914 in force employment and just short of 324 hours transporting VVIPs including President Cyril Ramaphosa, Cabinet Ministers and senior government officials.
21 Squadron based at Air Force Base Waterkloof is the SAAF’s VVIP and VIP transport squadron using Inkwazi, the Presidential Boeing 737-7ED (ZS-RSA), along with a Falcon 50 (ZS-CAS) and 900B (ZS-NAN). Helicopter squadrons flying Oryx, from time to time, move VIPs to areas without landing and take-off facilities for fixed wing aircraft.
The latest VVIP hours figure is a massive 584 less than that logged in the 2019/20 financial year.
Partial explanation for not meeting targeted air hours comes in notes from the report. These have it “the number of hours flown are dependent on the number of serviceable aircraft and operational taskings received” and “delivery of spares was affected by COVID-19 restrictions which had an adverse impact on maintenance and serviceability of aircraft”.
There is no indication of the hours logged by SAAF Rooivalk and Oryx helicopters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where these assets form the combined helicopter unit (CHU) of MONUSCO.
Internally, SAAF fixed and rotary-winged assets provided medical evacuation services in KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape; delivered medical equipment and supplies to the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape and assisted in firefighting actions in Western Cape as well as distributing disaster relief in Northern Cape.
According to the report, search and rescue assistance was “rendered” on eight occasions in hoisting and medical evacuation of sailors from ships in South African territorial waters off KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern and Western Cape.
Assistance was given to the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre during the search for a missing aircraft in the Welkom area of the Free State and to the Mountain Rescue Club of SA in the medical evacuation of an injured hiker from the Magaliesberg in North West.