How underfunding is hurting SA Air Force

Media reports that underfunding of the South African Air Force (SAAF) has caused the service to run down are correct, SAAF chief Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano said on Friday.

“In view of recent media reports and in line with SAAF Vision 2012, I would like to state that the continued and prolonged underfunding of operational systems has caused some aircraft systems, logistic support equipment, SAAF air-base infrastructure and operational support equipment to deteriorate to the point where an injection of capital is required to restore these ... to a state where they are fully operational again.”

Gagiano told reporters at the Roodewal bombing range in Limpopo that the rehabilitation of the runway and taxiways at Waterkloof air base is now urgent and will cost R126-million.

This is money he does not have in his budget, but funds he hopes the government will provide, considering the national importance and heavy use of the base.

Commenting on the state of the C130 Hercules fleet, he said only two of the nine aircraft will continue flying until this time next year.

“This is a setback for the SAAF in its endeavours to maximally support peace operations and its efforts to increase representivity at our senior transport squadrons.”

Gagiano said he has three Boeing 707s to provide airlift capacity into Africa.
Of these, only two are usually available.

“These aircraft do not, however, make provision for outsize cargo. The [Airbus] A400M initiative is truly a lifeline for the SAAF and will, together with future decisions on the transport aircraft mix, rejuvenate the SAAF’s transport capacity.”

Turning to helicopters, he said a number of factors impact negatively on the air force’s operational readiness.

The most important is the high number of ground crews resigning. The mainstay of the helicopter fleet, the Oryx, is due for an in-service upgrade, he said.

The delay in phasing out the Alouette III, due to problems with the Agusta A109 delivery, has also resulted in an increased need for maintenance and, consequently, decreased service ability.

“Most of these issues are temporary in nature and are being addressed,” Gagiano said.

The general said the programme for the preparation of air and ground crews for the strategic defence packages, meaning his force of new Hawk and Gripen fighter jets, is integrated with the current force preparations of the SAAF.

In the combat line, the SAAF currently has 12 Impala aircraft available and are flying them to their full capacity.

He said the air force plans to phase them out of service this September.

The SAAF has 29 Cheetah aircraft and recently decided to extend their service life to 2010 to ensure a smooth handover between Cheetah and Gripen.

Concluding his speech, he referred to a recent accident in which a black trainee pilot was killed. Media reports at the time blamed affirmative action for the accident.

Referring to the fact that the pilot, Second Lieutenant Ramaithe, had failed some tests, he said many other pilots failed similar tests before and are currently operational pilots in the air force and in the country’s other airlines.

“He unfortunately got lost on a low-level navigation exercise between Bloemfontein and Mafikeng and was unable to regain his bearing.

“I have been lost as a Second Lieutenant between Pretoria and Polokwane in a Vampire, but was fortunate enough to find my way again,” he said, indicating anyone could get lost and have an accident.—Sapa

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