SA Air Force (SAAF) Chief, Lieutenant General “Zakes” Msimang is confident the VVIP transport squadron will have a better aircraft availability rate six months from now.
21 Squadron is based at AFB Waterkloof and has reportedly been hard hit by a lack of qualified service personnel leading to low availability. This has resulted in more aircraft having to be chartered to transport President Jacob Zuma and members of his Cabinet as well as other senior government officials.
Earlier this year Afrikaans weekly Rapport said grounding of the entire squadron was on the cards.
Answering a question at last week’s media briefing hosted by South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief, General Solly Shoke, Msimang indicated plans were in place and work was being done to ensure the SAAF had sufficient trained personnel to keep the VIP squadron’s aircraft airworthy.
“The only maintenance the SAAF will not be able to do itself is deep maintenance and this will be outsourced.”
He did not respond when asked which aircraft were currently serviceable and which he expected to be fully airworthy during the course of next year.
Denel Aerospace referred questions about it taking over the maintenance function at 21 Squadron to the air force earlier this year. It did also not respond to questions about the reformation of its Aero Manpower Group (AMG), a specialist grouping of aviation technicians which was part of Denel.
Until 2013 it was responsible for regular maintenance of the majority of aircraft in the SAAF inventory. This came to an abrupt end when it was found AMG was doing work as part of an irregularly entered-into contract in terms of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). This initially saw 530 technical staff withdrawn from SAAF bases with a further 61 laid off in April last year.
Just on three months ago an “artisan reclassification passing out parade” at 68 Air School in Lyttelton, Centurion, added 50 technical staff to the SAAF ranks. The parade honoured those who completed studies and practical training on aircraft mechanics, aircraft structure, aircraft reconnaissance, electrical communication and aircraft welding, among others.
The training is part of an overall SAAF drive to improve in-house maintenance, repair and overhaul capabilities, lost when the AMG contract was ended.
In June Armscor confirmed it was in “the concept phase of the process (a replacement for 21 Squadron’s Falcon 900B) and is busy with a project study based on the user requirement received from the client (the SAAF)”.
The Falcon 900B has been in service at 21 Squadron since 1991 and underwent an extensive R70 million refurbishment in 2009.
Other aircraft on the squadron are a Falcon 50, a Cessna Citation 11 and the Presidential Boeing 737 Inkwazi.