Spotlight on local partnerships
ON DECEMBER 9, 2003 an Ilysushin 76 lumbered down on an airfield in Kigali, Rwanda, delivering an unspecified cargo of 31 tons, having stopped off earlier to collect “spares” in Bujumbura, Burundi. The flight was unscheduled, and apparently secret.
In the aftermath, South African transport authorities initiated a probe, the findings of which were never made public.
United Nations aviation monitors highlighted the incident in their report on Arming the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Among other things, the investigators drew attention to the following facts:
The contractor involved was Ukrainian operator Yuri Sidorov who was convicted in 1997 for violating aviation regulations in Namibia and was prohibited from using Namibian airspace in August 2001.
Sidorov operated several aircraft that, according to South African officials in 2001, had worked closely with Rwanda to supply the Congolese Reassemblance for Democracy (RCD) rebel movement.
Sidorov’s Volga Atlantic Airlines was one of a group of former Eastern bloc contractors flying transport planes over Africa who were flying supplies and materiel to SANDF peacekeeping forces in the Great Lakes region.
Sidorov, has been named in several UN reports as well as those published by Amnesty International and other monitoring agencies as having been closely associated with weapons transporter-dealer Viktor Bout, the one-time Joburg resident dubbed “the Merchant of Death” and allegedly the real-life model for Hollywood actor Nicholas Cage in Lord of War, the film.
He was just one of several former Soviet contractors flying over Africa in ageing and poorly maintained Antonovs and Ilysushins gleaned from former Soviet arsenals.
The late Ian Phillips, at the time special adviser to Transport Minister Jeff Radebe, was wont to cite cases like these when justifying his husbanding of the Airbus A400M project into reality.
He also cited cases where an analysis of the flight patterns of SANDF transports flying out of Waterkloof demonstrated they were carrying far heavier cargoes than were shown in the SANDF peacekeeping manifests, giving rise to concern about what else was being transported to the continent’s trouble spots.
Against this backdrop, the Airbus partnership was born, intended as Airbus South African representative Linden Birns puts it “to put local aerospace on a sustainable footing” in a long-term context and within the context of the international community.
Local aerospace company Aerosud along with Denel within the A400M project partnership has gone on to consolidate parts contracts worth hundreds of millions of rands, throughout the Airbus family of aircraft. – Tribune Reporter