Although the weather was suitable for some flying displays, the only flying during the Air Force Day Parade held at AFB Swartkop on the 27th of January was a single flypast by two Augusta 109 helicopters. This was a clear message by General Carlo Gagiano, chief of the South African Air Force, that the imbalance between the human resource budget and the operating budget is limiting flight operations in the SAAF. Unless resources are used optimally and performance becomes measured, very few SAAF aircraft will fly. With financial constraints and no signs of a quick solution, the SAAF has introduced “Project Safer SAAF” which embraces concepts such as EFQM, an enhanced quality management system to improve technical airworthiness together with safety, health, the environment and risk. Flight simulation and cheaper aircraft is another way to grow it's flying hours under the current financial situation.
Apart from the challenges, there were those who excelled with what they had and Air Force base Langebaanweg represented by Colonel M.K Petso received the SAAF Prestige Unit award from the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mr. Jeff Radebe. Air Force bases Ysterplaat and Bloemspruit were also contenders for this award.
During the year 2011 the SAAF participated in numerous productive exercises such as “Exercise Winter Solstice” executed in the Western Cape during extreme winter conditions and this proved combat readiness. Others included “Exercise Blue Cluster” where nine SADC countries produced joint relief, humanitarian assistance and peace support initiatives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The SAAF C47's and Lynx helicopters continued to support the SA Navy in the Mozambique Channel in international anti-piracy operation and the SAAF flew 36 tons of humanitarian freight to Somalia with its faithful C130 aircraft. Both Hawk and Gripen aircraft flew air combat manoeuvres against the German Air Force Tornados during their visit to Air Force Base Overberg and flight-testing of a new laser-guided bomb together with helmet mounted displays are some of the advances made during the last year.
For many years the SAAF has suffered from a high staff turnover but General Gagiano confirmed that this has significantly reduces over the last two years. He also mentioned during a media briefing after the event that the SAAF will increase their collaboration with general aviation in South African. One such example already in place is the ab
initio training of pilots by Babcock Training Academy at AFB Swartkop with a 0% failure to date. A memorandum of understanding between the SAAF and SAA is also well on track and it is clear that joining their expertise may just create the efficiency they are looking for.
General Gagiano confirmed that the SAAF infrastructure is in a state of continuing decline and the prospect of large-scale renovation is, at best, slim. The recent floods in Mpumalanga caused severe structural damage at AFB Hoedspruit and this will require priority attention.
In closing the media briefing, General Gagiano wanted to respond to the recent outcry regarding presidential aircraft shadowing. He confirmed that this practice is not new and is a common practice worldwide. This is a redundancy requirement and the risk of aircraft failure or delay during a presidential visit far outweigh the cost of the flight shadowing policy.
Although we were impressed and entertained by the SAAF band and the marching during the parade, the lack in participating aircraft was disappointing. However, General Gagiano made specific reference to this and pointed out that the Armed Forces Parade is scheduled for the 21st of February. Hopefully this was a hint that we could expect an entertaining display and we will certainly be there.