Air force capacity plane awful

07 November 2016 - 02:07 By STEPHAN HOFSTATTER

Aviation experts warn that the South African military might soon struggle to fly troops and weapons to war and disaster zones using its own aircraft, as a skills and maintenance crisis threatens to ground its entire transport fleet. The SANDF relies on its ageing air force fleet of nine Lockheed C130s for transport after a deal to buy eight A400M heavy lift transport aircraft from Airbus was cancelled in 2011.The Times has established a maintenance meltdown has left seven C130s grounded as the air force investigates two worrying mishaps at Waterkloof Air Force Base over the past two months.In one incident, a VIP jet started by itself and began to move out of the hangar. In another a technician dropped a C130 engine on test equipment. The two C130s still flying are expected to reach their scheduled maintenance break by year end, with no planes available to replace them.Army sends 20 riflemen to evict wife from homeThe SA National Defence Force will investigate the eviction by armed troops of a woman from an Eastern Cape army base. This means the military might soon have to pay to outsource its transport needs.The Times has established that four refurbished C130 engines have been gathering dust at Waterkloof for months because air force technicians don't consider themselves qualified to fit them to the aircraft.Earlier this year the aviation division of state arms maker Denel paid R50-million to refurbish the engines in the US. Two were delivered to Waterkloof in March and another two in May.But technicians say they don't have the skills or accreditation to work on them. An air force official said: "We have 10 repairables in various stages of repair. All these engines must go via the test bench. But the test bench is not certified."SA Air Force chief Lieutenant-General Fabian Msimang disputed there was a maintenance skills crisis. "The air force has sufficient qualified technical personnel. The perception that Denel Aviation's service wasn't up to scratch is inaccurate, ill-informed and malicious," he said.A source with direct knowledge of C130 charter costs said it would cost the air force "at least $3000 to $5000 an hour in additional cost".

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.