Lack of cash grounds Silver Falcons aerobatic team

2013-04-10 00:00

THE air force’s aerobatics display team, the Silver Falcons, have become the latest victim of severe budget cuts in the defence force.

Last week the team announced on its website that with only one exception it had been forced to cancel all its performances during air shows and elsewhere for the remainder of the 2013 financial year.

The cancellations are the latest of several cost-cutting measures by the air force to balance its budget.

Experts have already been questioning whether the flights undertaken in support of the intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR)— at a cost of more than R300 million — will exhaust the air force’s entire operating budget early in the financial year.

These millions could come from the government’s discretionary budget, but will first have to be paid by the air force.

Dozens of flights by chartered heavy cargo planes have been hauling arms, ammunition and logistical supplies between South Africa, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a result of the intervention.

The air force has announced that it will make no further use of reserve force pilots in the current financial year.

In several squadrons these pilots have been the sum total of proper expertise to assist with the training of junior pilots.

They have been the ones to plug the gaps left by the drain of expertise to greener pastures.

The Silver Falcons, who have entertained many spectators at air shows in different guises since 1953, say they will continue to maintain their skills.

The team has traditionally been the flagship of the air force’s Central Flying School at Langebaanweg and offers an opportunity for young instructors to develop their aerobatics skills.

This is the second setback for the team, whose support aircraft, a Dakota C-47, crashed in the Drakensberg early in December last year. Eleven people died in that accident.

The Dakota used to help transport ground crew and logistical support for the Silver Falcons and also bore the team’s colours.

On the day of the disaster it was on a routine operational flight to Mthatha when it crashed near Giant’s Castle in bad weather.

“While we are bitterly disappointed by this eventuality, we must understand the global economic situation … the reduction of defence budgets worldwide is going to have ramifications and the operational side of the SAAF must obviously take priority,” said a statement on its website.

The team has given the assurance that it will continue to maintain and develop its skills and that it “trusts in our leaders to make the right decisions to ensure the best outcome for the SAAF as a whole”.

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