Airbus has not given up on South Africa


Airbus Defence and Space has not given up on South Africa and is still hopeful that the SA Air Force will acquire the A400M and the C295 to meet its airlift, maritime surveillance and light transport requirements, and the A330MRTT to meet transport and tanking needs.

Fernando Ciria, Head of Marketing, Tactical Airlifters and ISR at Airbus Defence and Space, told defenceWeb that South Africa has not formally launched a procurement process for light transport and maritime surveillance aircraft but Airbus has nevertheless demonstrated the C295 to the South African Air Force (SAAF), in 2012, and is in touch with senior defence officials. He expects South Africa to make a decision at some stage on these programmes.

The SAAF initiated Project Saucepan for new maritime patrol aircraft to replace the C-47TP fleet, but this was then replaced by Projects Metsi and Kiepie, for light transport and maritime surveillance aircraft. Two years ago the Department of Defence (DoD) said the Air Force would acquire these types of aircraft, but in its latest annual report the DoD makes no mention of these acquisitions and the budget for the next several years shows no extra funding, indicating that Metsi and Kiepie have fallen by the wayside.

Jean Pierre Talamoni, Head of Sales and Marketing at Airbus Defence and Space, told journalists in Germany that South Africa could possibly order the A400M Atlas. Talamoni was confident that South Africa will come back on board the A400M programme as the SAAF needs them. He said a future order would probably be small, such as four, but depending on the SAAF’s needs. South Africa has no airlift and has good reason to buy the aircraft, according to Airbus.

It is understood that Germany has offered South Africa some of its A400M production slots, and other A400M customers have offered to give up their production slots, but South Africa has not made any decision to replace its ageing fleet of nine C-130 Hercules, of which only around three are airworthy at any time.

Airbus has kept its work share packages in place with Denel Aerostructures even after South Africa cancelled its order for the A400M seven years ago, and has even increased the number of work packages over the years in order to keep its foot in the door with South Africa regarding the A400M. However, it appears unlikely that Airbus will give additional workshare to Denel Aerostructures, but will keep the existing ones in place.

The South African Air Force has had no aerial refuelling capability since it retired its Boeing 707s many years ago, and its Gripens had to make refuelling stops on the ground when they were being deployed to the Central African Republic in 2013. Consequently, Airbus is offering the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) to South Africa to meet its transport, tanking and VIP needs (the MRTT can be fitted with a VIP interior and still carry over 100 tons of fuel). Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in May confirmed that the Department of Defence was going ahead with the acquisition of a new VIP jet, but it is not clear if the MRTT is a serious contender, as President Jacob Zuma will most likely be looking for a dedicated VIP jet.

Talamoni said Airbus hopes to sell 24-25 MRTTs in the Middle East and Africa region, but all of these are expected to come from the Middle East as they have fighter jet fleets that require refuelling.

Talamoni said that big growth will come out of Africa, as there are huge needs in Africa. Regarding the A400M, he that it is possible Egypt will buy the airlifter and may acquire additional C295s. The North African country has ordered a total of 24 C295s in several batches, with the final three to be handed over by the end of 2016.

Elsewhere on the continent, Morocco is believed to be looking for maritime patrol aircraft and Airbus has been talking to the country’s armed forces about the C295. Talamoni sees lots of demand in Africa for the C295 as it is reliable, well priced and suited to African conditions. While there is interest in the C295 from potential African customers in the near-term, Airbus is not at liberty to share the details at the moment.