Pretoria News

Sky-high costs to fly Gripen, Hawk aircraft

- LOUISE FLANAGAN

THE FUEL is only R11 a litre but it costs about R135 400 an hour to keep a Gripen fighter jet in the air.

The Hawk trainer fighter jets are a bit cheaper at about R82 900 per flying hour.

These were the costs-per-flying hour numbers that General John Bayne revealed to the Arms Procuremen­t Commission yesterday. Bayne is director of combat systems for the SA Air Force and responsibl­e for the Gripen and Hawk systems.

Bayne said the “dry costs” (without fuel) for a Gripen were R104 600 per flying hour and fuel cost R30 800, giving a total “wet cost” of R135 400. Hawks fly at a dry cost of R67 500, fuel costs of R15 400 and a total cost of R82 900.

This was the average cost per flying hour calculated over the past three years.

The SAAF bought 26 Gripen fighter jets, 17 of them single seaters and nine dual seaters, and 24 Hawk trainer fighters in the 1999 arms deal which the commission is investigat­ing.

“The Hawks have flown over 10 000 major accident-free flying hours since 2005 and the Gripens 3 500 since 2008,” said Bayne.

There had been “some minor accidents and incidents like on all aircraft fleets” but all were repairable in South Africa, he said.

Bayne touched on the controvers­ial issue of whether or not the fighter jets are in long-term storage.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula caused some confu- sion by telling Parliament in March that 12 of the Gripens were in longterm storage because there wasn’t funding to fly them, but last month she told Parliament that none of the Gripens or Hawks were in storage.

Baynes said the SAAF had found that it was better – and cheaper – not to put the aircraft into long-term storage even though budgets were tight this year. “We were warned that this would be a particular­ly tough financial year,” he said.

Bayne said the storage and maintenanc­e issue was discussed with the aircraft manufactur­er, Saab, earlier this year after initially storing 12 Gripens, and they then set up a less costly process. This reduced the maintenanc­e hours required for storage and made the aircraft more readily available for flying.

“With both these aircraft it would be far more costly and require much more maintenanc­e putting them into long-term storage,” he said.

They now use a rotational preventati­ve maintenanc­e programme which involves flying the aircraft every now and then.

All 26 Gripens are thus flown and managed in this way, he said.

Some are put under “tents” to slow the corrosion process while the aircraft are not in use.

The SAAF uses a three-tier system with the fighter aircraft.

This means the fighter pilots start training on the Pilatus aircraft, then move to the Hawk trainers, then the Gripens. The Hawk is used as a trainer and a fighter jet.

He said the training success rate was “very high” for air crew, both men and women. Bayne also said both Hawks and Gripens have been “well utilised” in line with the current security environmen­t.

Bayne emphasised the need to retain the fighters as part of the SANDF’s deterrent force. “Even during a period of peace it is important for a state to maintain a credible deterrent capability as an insurance policy. The fighter component remains a key component of this national capability.”

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