The ongoing loss of skills remains one of the South African Air Force’s (SAAF) major challenges, says Chief of the Air Force (CAF) Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano, and many measures taken to address the problem amount to “too little, too late.”
Gagiano says the issue has been “widely carried in all major news outlets in the country” but is not unique to the flying service: “the other services also battled with the phenomenon.
The CAF says the ‘fact of the matter is, eternal sources (both national and international) are scouting our expertise that is widely sought after and the Air Force in this particular case just cannot compete against the large remuneration packages luring our personnel off to new challenges.
“The areas most affected are flying crew, command and control, which includes air traffic controllers, and technicians over a widespread of expertise, specifically in the avionic environment.
“We`ve already lost too may this year. It is impossible for the Service to survive under these circumstances.
“The remedy is always too little, too late. The fact is we cannot compete with industry. We`re not squeaky clean either,” Gagiano added. “There is still a lot we can do on the soft issues, such as living quarters. Our career planning also needs some attention. But it is difficult to address these when you are constantly fighting fires, when you lose so many people.”
Gagiano says remedies include the stepping up of technical training. He says about 100 apprentices will soon start their education at Air Force Base Ysterplaat in Cape Town. But they`ll only become available in three years` time and have limited skills and experience. He notes that aircraft service technicians at squadron level should have about five years of post-training experience, those at intermediate level 1 years and those at Air Servicing Units between 20 and 25.
While Gagiano cited no numbers, Democratic Alliance defence spokesman Rafeek Shah earlier this month said an “average of 187 skilled and experienced technicians and 24 pilots … resign annually.
He added that according to a written defence department reply to a Parliamentary question 94 pilots and 746 technical staff (including 51officers) have resigned since 2004. In command and control the number was 114, including 40 officers.
”… we are experiencing a steady loss of skills and experience, which has serious implications for force readiness, the maintenance of equipment and weaponry, and the supervision of subordinate members,” Shah said.
Gagiano says recruitment by Australia has tapered off “after I had a word with [the Royal Australian Air Force] chief.” He adds that the SAAF is in talks with state airline SAA to access their pool of pilots and technicians, many of whom are ex-SAAF. “That is a huge resource pool,” he adds, saying talks with SAA and the state Air traffic and Navigation Service was “far down the road.”
The SAAF is also partnering with state arsenal subsidiary Denel Aviation.
Denel CEO Ismail Docrat says the company will be transferring personnel and equipment from its Kempton Park facilities to AFB Waterkloof to co-locate with 5 Air Servicing Unit. Docrat says this will eliminate duplication and save both Denel and the SAAF from wasting money and scarce skills.
“The general principle we are applying is that for depot-level maintenance, Denel should take the lead role, for operational level and intermediate maintenance, the Air Force should play the lead role.
Docrat also mooted combing Oryx medium transport and Rooivalk attack helicopter maintenance “as they are similar aircraft.” (The Rooivalk design is essentially based on the Oryx, a hybrid Eurocopter Puma and Cougar).
Denel Aviation will in the next few years vacate its Kempton Park premises as this has been sold off to the Airports Company of SA that wants the land to expand the adjacent OR Tambo International Airport. The area now occupied by their plant has been earmarked for a new runway.