Nothing having been made public to the contrary, the SA Air Force (SAAF) is still operating in austerity mode with acquisition replaced by maintenance and product support for the existing fleet.
Latest to receive attention in this regard is the pair of Falcon bizjets operated by 21 Squadron, the VIP transport unit based at AFB Waterkloof in Centurion.
The requirement issued in an Armscor tender last month is for “Falcon fleet product support services for the SAAF Falcon (sic)”. The tender is assigned to the state-owned defence and security acquisition agency’s acquisition and supply chain for the aero systems division and closes on 31 January.
The pair of Falcon 50s can be rightfully called “long in the tooth”, having been taken into the SAAF inventory in 1982 (ZA-CAQ) and 1985 (ZS-CAS). Both aircraft were upgraded in 2005/06 at Duncan Aviation in Nebraska. This saw a full interior and galley refurbishment with engines upgraded to improve economy, reduce maintenance costs and improve range.
The austerity mode, initiated by immediate past SAAF Chief, now retired lieutenant general Carlo Gagiano and apparently still in place since current CAF Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang took command in September 2012, has seen no new acquisitions. Instead the focus has gone to maintenance to keep the fleet airworthy. This has seen new service and maintenance contracts entered into as well as tenders for product support. Additionally, the SAAF has upped its in-house maintenance and technical skill using Lyttelton, Centurion-based 68 Air School.
The Presidential Boeing 737-7ED BBJ Inkwazi (ZS-RSA) has been on receiving end of the ministrations of technical personnel at SAA Technical and is now flying regularly with South Africa’s first citizen aboard. This after it was just about a hangar queen at AFB Waterkloof for various reasons, including former president Jacob Zuma’s apparent dislike of using the aircraft.
Last year Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans (PCDMV) heard 35 Squadron, the SAAF’s only maritime reconnaissance and patrol unit, had only two transport and four maritime aircraft in service. The committee was told the C-47TPs operated by the squadron had suffered “major critical maintenance events that significantly impacted on the availability of the C-47TP fleet”. Since then efforts have been made to get them airworthy again and tenders issued for C-47TP spares.
In the 2017/18 financial year the SAAF had zero light liaison-reconnaissance capability with the fleet of Cessna 208s grounded. The committee was told the single-engined aircraft were “operationally unavailable due to unavailability (of a) maintenance support contract being in place”.
Indications are AFB Waterkloof-based 41 Squadron, flying Caravans, PC-21s and King Airs) will be airborne again early this year. This after a maintenance support contract was issued by Armscor last year.