Minister confirms 35 Squadron grounded
The SA Air Force (SAAF) is currently not able to perform any maritime patrol taskings because none of its C-47TP aircraft are operational. This was revealed in reply to a Parliamentary question posed by Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister, Kobus Marais. He was told by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, in writing, that “none of the seven Dakotas are currently operational or serviceable due to the implementation of air worthiness directive on the primary flight controls”. The directive apparently relates to a wiring corrosion problem, which has neither been confirmed nor denied by the SAAF, after questions going back to last year. This all but ensures current and future deployments for the Southern African Development community (SADC) anti-piracy tasking, Operation Copper, will be limited to maritime and electronic listening platforms. With no apparent intent to acquire new maritime aviation platforms the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) will also not be able to contribute to maritime security, as expected in the blue economy sector of Operation Phakisa. It is also not able to deliver when it comes to search and rescue operations in South African waters and further.
The Ministerial answer appears to leave AFB Ysterplaat-based 35 Squadron grounded until such time as the corrosion problem can be eliminated and at least some of its more than 70 year-old aircraft made airworthy and returned to the flight line. While not completely grounded, 28 Squadron finds itself in a precarious condition. The AFB Waterkloof-based transport squadron’s fleet of nine C-130BZ aircraft are also – understandably – showing signs of age. They have been operational for more than 50 years and according to Mapisa-Nqakula only three aircraft are currently serviceable. Her written answer to Marais’ question states: “six of the nine C-130s are operational with three of those six being serviceable”. She was not nearly as forthcoming in replying to another question asked by Marais. He wanted to know whether the board of inquiry established to look into possible irregularities at 21 Squadron, the SAAF VIP transport unit, has completed its work and compiled a report on its findings. If not, Marais wanted the Minister to provide him with a date when the report would be available to the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans. As far as can be ascertained the board was established more than a year ago but this could not be confirmed. The Ministerial response reads: “the board of inquiry is not completed yet”.