Organisers determined to host a bigger and better AAD

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The organisers of the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition are determined to bounce back from the post-Covid-19 slump and make AAD 2024 the biggest yet, with drone, energy and general aviation hubs as well as conferences on the cards for this year’s event.

A 100-day countdown event was hosted at the Royal Elephant Hotel on Monday, with Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise giving the keynote speech, which was flown in by a quadcopter drone.

“For me, AAD 2024 must really put South Africa back on the map again,” Modise told guests, who included representatives from lead host Armscor as well as the Department of Defence, Commercial Aviation Association of Southern Africa, and South African defence industry. “I’m going to say it’s time we do what we do best,” Modise said, “and I have all the trust this one will be bigger than the last one.”

Defence minister Thandi Modise.

AAD allows for South Africa to demonstrate its competitive technology and innovation to the globe, a chance to tap into global defence supply chains, and serve as a gateway not only to the aerospace and defence industries but also other sectors that can benefit from advanced aerospace and defence technologies.

Homegrown technology like the Milkor 380 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will take centre stage at Air Force Base Waterkloof from 18 to 22 September. Modise mentioned the Milkor 380 is the biggest UAV produced in Africa, and said President Cyril Ramaphosa asked her why it is not in Defence Force service. She urged those making UAVs to apply them to border security and other taskings and said she would like to see drones helping South African soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“You cannot be a regional power if you’re naked,” she said, adding that, “I hope the SANDF becomes the first consumer and tester of your ideas.” While South Africa has the Gripen fighter jet, Modise’s heart lies with locally built aircraft like the Rooivalk. “We have already allowed the Rooivalk to fly out of our scheme of things. We need to get it back,” she said.

Arsmcor CEO Advocate Solomzi Mbada said, “We really are ready and will have a bigger and much improved AAD event,” adding that AAD has so far met revenue targets. The organisers are expecting 30 000 trade visitors and 300 exhibitors.

So far, eight national pavilions have been confirmed, with a focus on increased international participation. The United States, China, India, and Brazil are some of the countries that will have a big presence at AAD 2024.

In addition to general aviation, energy and unmanned hubs, AAD 2024 will also feature a mobility track, air show, and – for the first time – conferences over the three days, covering topics such as future warfare, maritime security, and defence technology innovation.

“We are on the brink of delivering the most spectacular event Africa has seen,” said Sandile Ndlovu, CEO of the South African Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD). After feedback from stakeholders, including the Minister of Defence, he said many improvements will be seen at AAD 2024. This includes a revised opening ceremony, which will not feature a parade but “a digital display of South Africa’s technology.”

Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo, said that the organisers were able to pull off the 2022 edition of AAD in the wake of the Covid pandemic, but “now conditions are far better than 2022. We are coming with a big bang. No doubt it’s going to be the best.” He hinted that some of this ‘bang’ will be from helicopters, fighter jets and more – not just from South Africa but from other countries as well.

AAD exhibition director Nakedi Phasha said 70% of exhibition space has been booked out, exceeding the organisers’ target. This is a “robust vote of confidence” in the exhibition, Phasha said, with confirmed attendance from global industry giants such as Embraer, Airbus, Saab, Turkish Aerospace Industries, L3Harris, International Armoured Group etc. In addition to industry, over 200 foreign delegations have been invited, including from BRICS partner countries, with at least 40% expected to attend.

According to Tshwane Mayor Cilliers Brink, “if you want a great city you must host great events,” but he added that AAD is not just about the aerospace and defence industry, as it also provides an enormous economic injection. In 2022, international visitors contributed over R135 million to South Africa’s GDP, while public and trade visitors generated R150 million in revenue. The event also raised R65 million in tax revenue and created over 1 350 jobs. “The City of Tshwane will make AAD 2024 the best and biggest event thus far,” Brink reassured guests.

Inspiring young people to take an interest in aerospace and defence careers is another priority for AAD 2024. Youth Development Programme (YDP) Chairperson Kholisile Khumalo said the youth programme creates awareness about careers in the defence and aviation sectors, provides a platform for the youth to interact with the defence and aviation sectors, assists learners in identifying bursary opportunities, supports the promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at schools and helps graduates in engineering and science connect with the defence and aviation sectors for vacation work and internships.

In 2022, some 9 000 youth attended AAD, and this year the organisers aim to get 12 000 youngsters from across the country to Air Force Base Waterkloof in September. “Let us plant the seed of curiosity in the minds of our youth,” he urged. “Let’s invite South Africa’s youth back to the defence industry.”

AAD is one of the top six global defence exhibitions, and the theme for this year’s edition is Exploring new paths, sharing solutions, showcasing innovation and capability’.

defenceWeb will be producing the AAD Show Daily publication, as well as organising the Conferences, which promise to be a convergence of industry leaders, experts, and stakeholders from around the globe who will examine pressing topics in aerospace and defence.

For those interested in participating as sponsors or speakers in the AAD 2024 Conference, please contact Angela Mace at defenceWeb Events via email at [email protected].

For editorial queries on the Show Daily, please contact Guy Martin at [email protected].