The decision by the leadership of the SA Air Force (SAAF) to can the planned Wings and Wheels show at AFB Ysterplaat in Cape Town has raised the hackles of many, not only in the country’s wider aviation fraternity but also at local and provincial government level in the Western Cape.
Many aviation enthusiasts are also asking why the decision came so late and rightly so as SAAF headquarters surely must have known about the event months ago.
But the decision, if it is followed through to its logical conclusion, must also have implications for other air force bases where public events are staged.
The two that immediately spring to mind are AFB Zwartkop and AFB Waterkloof in the Tshwane metro.
Zwartkop is home to 17 Squadron and is an active base with regular helicopter movements. It is also home to the SAAF Museum, the caretaker of the country’s military aviation history.
Not listed as an operational unit, the Museum is massively dependent on fundraising in its quest to preserve this heritage. Its major fundraiser is the annual airshow, held in May.
Does the decision to can the Ysterplaat event mean the Museum airshow will suffer the same fate because, according to the official line on Wings and Wheels, “sustaining capabilities and operations” for “conceivable contingencies” would be affected by the presence of the public as well as lifestyle and vehicle exhibits?
The same can be asked of South Africa’s premier defence exhibition – Africa Aerospace and Defence – at Waterkloof. This base is also an operational one and is home to two of the busiest squadrons in the SAAF – 21 and 28 Squadrons.
Theoretically, the presence of large numbers of civilians can affect the base’s operational readiness so it follows that the continent’s premier defence exhibition could suffer the same fate as Wings and Wheels.
It is going to be interesting to see what sort of message emanates from SAAF headquarters, now increasingly referred to as “Fawlty Towers”, in the lead-up to these two events next year.
Both the Western Cape provincial government and Cape Town metro have said they will be seeking answers on the late cancellation of the event. defenceWeb urges them to push and push hard. From personal experience this publication knows just how difficult it is to get the military to provide meaningful answers.