National government’s commitment to the overall South African defence sector was well illustrated last month when President Cyril Ramaphosa officially opened the 10th Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at Air Force Base Waterkloof outside Pretoria.
For the first time in the history of the exhibition, which has been around in different guises for more than 30 years, it was officially opened by the president, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the SA National Defence Chief (SANDF). Leon Dillman, chief executive of the Commercial Aviation Association of SA (CAASA), who officially hosted AAD 2018, noted Ramaphosa’s presence was “a positive message to foreign delegations and visitors”.
The exhibition, the largest of its kind in Africa, has its roots in previous aerospace exhibitions at Lanseria International Airport and the Defence Exhibition of South Africa (DEXA), presented by Armscor and the SA Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD).
Exhibition organisers this week released audited numbers for the exhibition showing a decrease in attendance for trade visitors and the public attending the two day weekend air show.
Trade visitors for the first three exhibition days numbered 32 538, compared with 33 863 during the last exhibition in September 2016.
Just over fifty-five thousand people entered the gates of the air force base in Centurion for the two air show days. This is also a decrease on the 57 000 attending two years ago and might, in part, be explained by the air show being staged over the Heritage Day long weekend.
Exhibitor numbers were also down slightly on 2016. This year saw 415 exhibitors take up over thirty thousand square metres of exhibition space, in and outside hangars. In 2016 AAD attracted 532 exhibitors who displayed products and services on fifty-four thousand square metres of AFB Waterkloof.
Media attendance was also down, with 287 accredited media compared with over 400 in 2016.
Exhibition organisers said 128 aircraft were either on static display or took part in the airshow. In 2016 there were 86 aircraft on static display – this year defenceWeb counted approximately 65, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Apart from the SA Air Force (SAAF) the only other air forces present at AAD this year were those from Zimbabwe and the United States, a point noted by a number of military aviation enthusiasts defenceWeb spoke to during the exhibition.
New additions to AAD 2018 included conferences, with cyber security and combat aircraft conferences being hosted at Waterkloof.
Seasoned defence exhibition visitors, representing serving and retired military officers and specialist media, were in agreement AAD 2018 was not as well attended as previous ones.
“My overall impression is the lower attendance was a sign of just how difficult the economic situation is, locally and globally. Combined with a lack of funded local acquisition projects, Project Hotel and an abbreviated Project Biro notwithstanding meant international companies were either absent or had smaller stands. Symptomatic of this are perennial large exhibitors, such as China, Denel, Pakistan, Paramount and Russia, had significantly smaller display areas,” one said.
Two retired SA Navy admirals agreed with this opinion on the amount of free space in the hangars. “Some of it was disguised as pause and/or rest areas but it was obvious this was exhibition space not taken up.”
Other areas visitors complained about included the by-now hardy annuals of battling with parking and access and registration, even though this was touted as being available on-line and via an AAD app for smartphones.
The next AAD is scheduled for September 16 to 20, 2020.