Two new helicopters for SAPS Air Wing

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The South African Police Service (SAPS) Air Wing has taken delivery of another two H125 light utility helicopters from Airbus as it recapitalises its rotary wing fleet.

The two helicopters were officially taken into service by SAPS National Commissioner, General Fannie Masemola, during a ceremony at Grand Central Airport in Midrand on 1 September.

“The handover of the two aircraft assets is expected to provide crucial air support to police on the ground,” Masemola is quoted by the Midrand Reporter as saying. “The primary focus will be on tracking and tracing suspects in high-risk incidents such as cash-in-transit (CIT) heists, armed robberies, hijackings and other serious and violent crimes.”

The first new H125 procured as part of the latest order from Airbus was received on 12 December by Masemola at Grand Central Airport where Airbus Helicopters Southern Africa is based. At the time he said the helicopter would be based in Gauteng to bolster crime combatting operations.

The H125 (previously the Eurocopter AS 350 B3 Écureuil [Squirrel]) was recently added to the South African aircraft register as ZT-RFP. It appears the two new helicopters are registered as ZT-RFT and ZT-RFU.

More H125s are on the way, with Business Day reporting seven are being acquired for R400 million.

State-owned defence materiel agency Armscor, in its latest newsletter, reports that it has a service level agreement (SLA) with the SAPS for the new rotorcraft. The SLA includes “acquisition and procurement services to achieve synergy across the [Cabinet] security cluster departments”.

“As Armscor we also have a role of working with industry to ensure that we are able to support government entities to be able to deliver on what they need to do,” Segomotso Tire, Armscor Executive Manager: Business Development and Industry Support said. “Over and above serving its primary client – the Department of Defence (DoD) – the Armscor Act makes provision for the acquisition agency to support other government departments in line with the legislated mandate.”

Ongoing projects at hand between Armscor and the SAPS include disposal of “obsolete landward and aeronautical platforms and other ancillaries” the Armscor newsletter has it. “Through lifecycle support and maintenance management services on new and existing platforms are part of the offer to the SAPS to ensure service readiness in an efficient and effective manner.”

Armscor on behalf of the SAPS was tasked with disposing of 13 of the Air Wing’s 13 BO 105 helicopters, grounded in 2017. A single private buyer acquired seven as part of an Armscor tender last year. Armscor previously facilitated the purchase of six R44 helicopters for the SAPS,  delivered from 2008 onwards.

The SAPS Air Wing now operates 16 AS350/H125 helicopters. Airbus says its H125 is “a multi-mission workhorse” with manoeuvrability, excellent visibility and low in-cabin vibration levels. The rotary wing aircraft has a flat floor that can be quickly and easily reconfigured for missions including aerial work, firefighting, law enforcement, rescue, air ambulance, passenger transport and others.

Other rotorcraft in the SAPS fleet include six R-44 Raven IIs, two MD500s and a BK 117. Fixed wing aircraft include eight PC-6 Turbo Porters (the ninth was destroyed in a crash in August 2022), a PC-12, a King Air C90 and a Citation Sovereign jet. Half the fleet is based in Gauteng with the remainder deployed throughout the country.

SAPS aircraft are used in policing operations including crime prevention, vehicle tracking and pursuit, dagga plantation spraying, crowd control and monitoring, VIP transport and search and rescue operations. Some are equipped with hoists, cameras, searchlights and slings.

Most Air Wing responsibilities entail responding to crime call-outs. It also provides air support monitoring of public protests and major events, including support to specialised units such as the Special Task Force, National Intervention Unit and Tactical Response Teams. More than 2 000 airborne law enforcement operations are typically carried out every year, the majority by helicopters.

With regard to personnel numbers, the SAPS employs about 50 pilots and 300 support staff in the Air Wing.