The South African Air Force (SAAF) is set to replace air show flypasts with tow-pasts in an effort to save money while still having aircraft present at air shows.
The SAAF made the announcement on 1 April as part of a number of measures to combat its shrinking budget, inflation and the poor exchange rate, which is making spares as well as fuel prohibitively expensive.
A SAAF spokesman said that aircraft will now be towed past air show crowds by tractors instead of being flown, as this not only saves on pilots’ pay but fuel as well. “It costs around R200 000 an hour to fly a Gripen and R25 000 to fly an Oryx, while it costs around R350 an hour to operate a tractor. The savings through towing are substantial.” He added that all aircraft in the SAAF’s inventory, from Hawk jets to Rooivalk helicopters and C-130 Hercules transports, would be eligible for towing, allowing the South African public to witness the complete Air Force lineup at shows.
He added that old and unserviceable aircraft would also be available for towing, except when they had flat tyres and could not be moved.
The Silver Falcons aerobatic display team will be towed by a special tractor team that will tow all the aircraft across the tarmac in formation, thus preserving their elite status as South Africa’s top military display team.
The new cost saving scheme will allow the SAAF to perform at almost every air show in South Africa, except those that require aircraft to be towed through toll gates to reach their destination. The SAAF spokesman admitted the Air Force is still struggling to reach an agreement with Sanral to make towed aircraft exempt from e-tolls in Gauteng.
When contacted for comment, a Sanral spokesperson told defenceWeb that when Paramount towed their prototype Ahrlac aircraft through one of its gantries several years ago, it had to pay tolls and there was no reason why the South African Air Force should be exempt.
A SAAF pilot who wished to remain anonymous expressed unhappiness at the new scheme, saying his flying allowance was being drastically reduced as a result of the new cost-saving measures. However, he added that he wished to remain in the Air Force and had put in a request to be transferred to the logistics division so he could now drive a tractor.
Note: This article was first published on 1 April.