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Air Force on thin ice, experts say

Date: 19 June 2014

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The following is a very rough translation of an Afrikaans article that appeared in Beeld newspaper.

Four of the nine Air Force C-130 Hercules's are inoperable due to a lack of funds, whilst at least 19 engines await to be serviced.

The servicing costs approximately R10 million per engine, but the squadron's budget for the whole year is only R50 million.

This is one of the examples of deficiencies in the Air Force that came to light this week  after the third fatal airforce plane crash since 2012.

According to pilots and technicians in the Air Force, these accidents should be a wake-up call to those making decisions for the military's budget.

"It is not just military personnel in air force aircraft flying, but VIPs such as President Jacob Zuma too," the pilot said.

The shortages also affect each squadron.

15 Squadron in Durban is a maritime unit, supposed to provide pilots for emergencies at sea.

The squadron had to abandon sea rescues because most of his flying hours were used for presidential flights to and from Nkandla.

After last week's accident in Mpumalanga, commercial helicopters also had to fetch the injured because a helicopter was not available.

The Air Force has closed ranks and drew maintained silence while chaplains and social workers met with the colleagues of the three pilots.

Maj. Tsepo Malia (37) and Captains Francois Hugo (27) and Marcelino Wembie (28) of 41 Squadron were killed when the Cessna C208 Caravan in which they were flying crashed near the Longtom Pass.

Two ground crewmen, Sgt. CB Mabusela (36) and Corporal GD Ramasilo (47) were seriously injured, but are stable in hospital.

According to colleagues, Malai and Hugo were excellent and operationally qualified pilots. Wembie was qualified as a co-pilot.

Experts had long predicted that the Air Force was playing with fire.

The Hawk trainers were lying on the ground prior to Zuma's inauguration this year after an accident in which the nose wheel had broken off.

The aircraft only participated in the mass flypast at the inauguration before being decommissioned last week.

Some squadrons had barely more flying hours for this year  than a pilot needs to maintain his flying skills.

"Add to that the lack of expert instructors while a young pilot in 41 Squadron achieved an average of three per month and you have the reason why accidents happen," a pilot who wishes to remain anonymous said.

41 Squadron is the workshop for newly qualified pilots where they gain the necessary experience for further specialization.

Last year, the Air Force suspended the aircraft maintenance contract with Denel and more than 500 highly experienced technicians were fired. A handful have since been retained to train Airforce technicians.

The Caravans - like the C130's – are together with the Oryx helicopters the Air Force's workhorses.

 


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