The South African Air Force (SAAF) has graduated 44 new artisans, who will help address the skills shortage facing the airborne arm of service.
The artisans were unveiled at a reclassification parade at Air Force Base Swartkop West on 23 August, which was attended by Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant General Fabian “Zakes” Msimang.
Lieutenant Colonel Gert Pieter Christian Smit, Training manager at 68 Air School, said the artisans had spent three years training in their various fields and had to complete a final trade test with a practical component before graduating. The artisans started with basic military training before moving on to 18 month apprenticeships at 68 Air School.
Of the 44 artisans (28 males and 16 females), five are aircraft electrical artisans, four are aircraft instrument artisans, three are aircraft mechanics, two are aircraft structures artisans, two are aircraft survival equipment fitters, four are aircraft weapon artisans, four are electronic ground radar artisans, and seven are electronics and communications artisans. Other graduates include spray painter, reconnaissance, fitter, ground electrical, aircraft instrument and electronic technician artisans.
The SAAF said the new members are trained to ensure that SAAF aircraft are serviceable and ready to fulfil the mandate of the Air Force which is to protect the South African airspace and the people of South Africa. They would also go a long way to address the skills shortage that is continuously being created by the exodus of qualified technicians and engineers who have since resigned from service.
Msimang said the new artisans had embarked on a lifelong journey and said they must ensure that the Air Force’s systems are safe and airworthy. “You have received a high standard of training and it is all up to you as individuals and a collective to grab all the opportunities to better yourselves and become masters of your trade.”
In April last year the SAAF graduated 65 artisans at a reclassification parade. The majority were ‘aircraft mechanical artisans’, with 20 qualified. Eight aircraft electrical, five aircraft radio, two aircraft reconnaissance, three aircraft survival, three aircraft instrument, four aircraft weapons, two aircraft welder, four electronics communication, two fitter, two general electrical, two ground electro mechanical, three motor mechanical and two aircraft structure artisans were reclassified in 2018 along with one photographic, one turner, and one electronic radar artisan.
In mid-2017 an artisan reclassification passing out parade at 68 Air School in Lyttelton, Centurion, added 50 technical staff to the SAAF ranks.
The training is part of an overall SAAF drive to improve in-house maintenance, repair and overhaul capabilities, lost when the Aero Manpower Group (AMG) contract with Denel was ended. Until 2013 it was responsible for regular maintenance of the majority of aircraft in the SAAF inventory. This came to an abrupt end when it was found AMG was doing work as part of an irregularly entered-into contract in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). This saw over 500 technical staff withdrawn from SAAF bases.