Restricted flying hours: Defence budget cuts ‘set pilots up to crash’

2013-04-01 00:00

EXPERIENCE or the lack of it is apparently behind a rash of accidents that have hit the airforce since last November.

Military expert Helmoed-Römer Heitman said it was too soon to comment in detail on Saturday’s crash. However, he said it seems a relatively inexperienced aircrew were being worked hard in difficult flying conditions and under pressure.

“The pilots don’t have that much experience any more, because they no longer get enough flight hours to gain experience.

“There are also no longer enough experienced flight instructors left. Sooner or later, this must lead to accidents.

“Add to that the lack of technicians to maintain the aircraft and the risk of an accident climbs,” said Heitman.

In November, the airforce lost a Dakota C47 cargo plane in a hard landing at Mthatha.

Shortly thereafter, a Dakota crashed in the Drakensberg with the loss of all on board, while a Casa light cargo aircraft lost its nose wheel in another hard landing. “It is a confluence of things causing one accident after another and the airforce will have to give it serious thought,” said Heitman.

“There has been concern for a while about restricted flying hours because of cuts to the defence budget.

“Unfortunately, pilots can only gain experience by flying.”

The accident was the fourth involving an Agusta 109 helicopter. In 2009, one crashed in the Woodstock dam in KZN and the three crew on board drowned.

In December 2010, another, also posted at 15 Squadron in Durban, had a tail rotor problem during a crime fighting operation and made a hard landing in Ballito.

A third was written off after the joystick became unresponsive and it came down hard at Potchefstroom.

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