A report stating the South African Air Force’s (SAAF) affirmative action policy will result in nothing more than higher aircraft crash statistics has been trashed by sections of the wider community of aviation enthusiasts, writers and observers.
“While it is right to acknowledge problems in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), sensationalist and unsourced reports are not at all useful in furthering the debate,” Johannesburg-based aviation observer and writer Darren Olivier said in response to a Strategypage report.
The website said that a decade of corruption, shrinking budgets and political pressure to recruit more black flight and technical personnel were the main reasons the SAAF faced severe problems.
“Most experienced pilots, especially fighter pilots, have left the SAAF simply because they weren’t flying enough,” the website reportedly said, adding that “many pilots who remained are there because they were given their wings under the affirmative action quota system.”
Digging into Strategypage, Olivier found it wasn’t a think-tank, as some local reports quoted, but an informal military news site.
“While some of its articles and posts are well-sourced, many, especially those on foreign militaries, are not. The one referring to the SAAF is based only on some dubious news stories, lacks any direct sourcing, has no data newer than 2009 and has dubious figures,” he said.
As examples he pointed out that the site claimed 50 transport aircraft in SAAF service in 2009.
“The actual figure is around 34, including the Cessna C-208s.
“Similarly the claimed number of Cheetahs doesn’t match any known figure as the SAAF had 38 Cheetah Cs, 16 Cheetah B/D/D2s and 16 Cheetah Es, with the latter type retired in 1992.
“It also repeats the oft erroneous pilot figure, which excludes pilots seconded to other squadrons, other duties, on course or in the Reserves and asserts without any evidence the majority of pilots are black.
“At the same time it also claims the best pilots are being excluded from the fighter line for being white, yet that was based on a single rumoured event and there’s no evidence this is ongoing SAAF policy. Nor is a move to other lines permanent in any case, as Major Catherine “Siren” Labuschagne proved by transferring from transports to the fighter line.”
He also takes exception to Strategypage’s reference to the “decrepit state of aging buildings, runways and aircraft”.
“Last I checked both AFB Waterkloof and Makhado had new runways. Waterkloof has new hangars and the aircraft look fine,” Olivier notes.
In terms of questions that should be asked around the current situation in all four arms of service of the SANDF, he maintains the “completely and dangerously inadequate defence budget, the misguided culture of secrecy the SANDF has cultivated, political interference at Central Flying School in Langebaanweg, the complete inadequacy of the Department of Public Works and the need for a Department of Defence/SANDF replacement, the flawed disciplinary processes within the SANDF, the related mishandling of labour disputes and unions and the usually awful SANDF public relations” are top of the list.
Another regular poster on aviation and military aviation sites in South Africa pointed out in response to the Strategypage report that “things are not all well in the SAAF and it isn’t the organisation we served years ago”.
In terms of accidents he notes the transport and helicopter lines have borne the brunt of tragic accidents since the Strategic Defence Package acquisitions were delivered.
This has seen no less than four Agusta A-109 light utility helicopters declared category five with two C-47TPs suffering the same fate.