The sad financial state of the SA Air Force (SAAF) could impact on future air travel by President Jacob Zuma and other government VIPs due to expiry of the international ratings of 21 Squadron pilots.
There are already three pilots in the squadron who cannot fly internationally because their ratings for intercontinental flights have lapsed, the Afrikaans daily Beeld reports.
“If in future pilots without the necessary authorisation have to fly they can be prohibited from entering airspace over any number of countries. If the President is aboard it can become a massive embarrassment,” according to the paper.
A similar situation exists at 28 Squadron, responsible for logistic support to SA National Defence Force (SANDF) deployments on the continent as part of either AU or UN peacekeeping or peace support missions.
The currency ratings and authorisation are done annually in simulators in the United States and the United Kingdom because it is cheaper than doing the re-rating in actual aircraft.
Cost of the currency re-rating course is estimated at between R1,5 and R2 million and this has already been paid. A shortage of funds has seen to it the SAAF has canned attendance because it cannot pay for the air tickets to and from simulator sites and accommodation for pilots on course.
Beeld reported a number of pilots said it was “wasted expenditure”.
Last year six pilots were sent to the United Kingdom for training on the Global Express, a possible addition to the SAAF VIP fleet. This acquisition was subsequently cancelled. Cost of this training is estimated at around the R3 million mark.
The newspaper’s specialist defence writer, Erika Gibson, did not receive any response from either SANDF or SAAF corporate communications to what she called “a detailed list of questions”. The only response was that the SANDF’s operational requirements and abilities are not subjects for public discussion.
Three courses for pilots in possession of the necessary documentation to fly Inkwazi, the Presidential BBJ, have been cancelled as well as two each for other 21 Squadron aircraft – the Falcon 900 and the Falcon 50.
28 Squadron pilots do their refresher courses free of charge in a simulator owned and operated by the US Air Force but again, the lack of funds for air travel and accommodation has seen this cancelled.
Attendance at courses is planned at least a year in advance to allow timeous upgrades for pilots needing them. The cancellations means a backlog of pilots will accrue leaving an even smaller group of current pilots to carry the squadron’s workload,” an unidentified 28 Squadron member told the paper.
Another area where the lack of finance has impacted on SAAF operations is with its A109 light utility helicopter fleet. Insufficient flying hours means around 18 pilots stand to lose their currency rating on the rotary-winged aircraft that replaced the Alouette 111. Additionally, the lack of allocated flying hours means many of the 30-strong fleet are not flown at all and only ground-started from time to time to keep them as close to airworthy as possible