(Story & Pics Rob Russell) – Ag Aviation Africa (AAA), the Sub-Saharan and the Middle East agent for Air Tractor, hosted an open day and launch party before the Stellenbosch airshow to introduce their newly approved Aircraft Training Organisation (ATO), Ag Aviation Flight Academy (AAFA).

THE AVIATION COMMUNITY, customers, potential clients and the financial world attended the two day event to see the beautiful new facility at their Stellenbosch Head Office. Demand worldwide for agricultural aircraft is growing. In 2021 Air Tractor delivered 163 aircraft throughout the world. It is intended to deliver over 200 various variants in 2022, of which 20 are due to be delivered in the AG Aviation Africa’s territory. Air Tractors are predominantly used for agricultural purposes in South Africa, there is however a growing market for these aircraft to be used in fire-fighting support. In East Africa, particularly Ethiopia and Djibouti, they are utilised in the ongoing fight against locust swarms and play a huge part in the prevention of damage to food crops in that area. With farming becoming very scientific and moving towards the most efficient and effective use of land and equipment, there is a growing need for equipment such as crop spraying aircraft. Gone are the days of aircraft with just a stick, rudder and basic aircraft instrumentation and a few workers on the ground waving flags, showing the pilot where to go.

‘a vast inventory of essential spares’

Today’s aircraft are equipped with state of the art equipment, including precision GPS and the ability to communicate via data links with the farmer, enabling the most efficient and cost-effective use of the aircraft. All these factors are vital, both for the farmer and the aircraft operator. Graham Wells, COO of Ag Aviation Africa and Director of Ag Aviation Flight Academy, spoke at length about financing. Two main options are available when purchasing an aircraft: The first sees the prospective client making use of the American Exim bank. Whilst offering very favourable low-interest rates, the deal is subject to rand/dollar exchange rate volatility, which could result in significant price fluctuations.

CFI Charlie Marais pointing out features to well known local pilot, Francois Marais.

The second option is to source local financing. AAA has good working relations with all the big financial institutions in South Africa and by working with them and the client, is able to negotiate favourable financing deals, often using the client’s own bank. The latter option is encouraged by AAA and seems to be the more favoured option for many of their Air Tractor buyers. Reliable maintenance support for aircraft paying their way in the remote places is vital.

‘a complete ab-initio course on agricultural flying’

The need for quality CAA approved Aircraft Maintenance Organisations (AMOs) is given a high priority by AAA. Whilst not doing any maintenance of the aircraft they sell, Ag Aviation Africa works closely with company approved AMOs, to ensure an efficient, reliable and cost-effective service is provided to their clients. Allied to this, and as part of the technical support, AAA has two spare depots in the country, one being at Parys, and they have recently opened another in Stellenbosch.

These two depots hold a vast inventory of essential spares, both for the airframes and their PT-6 engines. They are developing a sophisticated courier service, to ensure all orders are handled with minimum downtime to the client.

‘They are developing a sophisticated courier course’

The newly established Ag Aviation Flight Academy is based at their Head Office at Stellenbosch Agri Business Park. The Head Office is situated between Cape Town International Airport and Stellenbosch and is five minutes from Stellenbosch Airfield, It is surrounded by rural agricultural land, wine farms with plenty of accommodation of all types and costs is available for prospective students. And of course there is the magnificent views of the winelands. Charlie Marais, the Chief Flight Instructor (CFI) shared his vision and where he wants to take AAFA. There is no doubt that he is very committed to its success and growth and there are exciting plans in the pipeline.

Stellenbosch Flying club committee member, Derek Lord, trying his hand at the sim.

The training is divided into three key areas:

  • Agricultural Recurrency Training on the Air Tractor Flight Simulator for ag and       firefighting pilots
  • Air Tractor Engineers Courses
  • Air Tractor type ratings and Ag ratings (available in 2023)

The Academy was recently awarded its Part 141 – Aviation Training Organisation (ATO) approval from the CAA, which will enable it to train pilots, as well as offer re-currency and refresher training. Working with clients, they will be able to custom-design courses to their customer’s individual requirements. AAFA is operated as a stand-alone company but falls within the AG Aviation Group. AAFA’s first student, Christiaan Pieterse, from Proman Lugbespuiting, just completed his recurrency course successfully.

AAA has made a large investment in an FSTD (Flight Simulator Training Device) based on the Air Tractor 802. The first of its kind in Africa, this modern simulator was built by Geosim Technologies, a well-known Australian Company with years of experience in building such simulators. It is a fixed base simulator, with state of the art 270 degrees surround graphics and sound, giving the student a realistic flying experience, albeit without movement. Ag Aviation Flight Academy, together with Honiball Aviation is currently working with the CAA to ensure compliance in that it is correctly licensed and certified to ensure the necessary simulator training and re-currencies can be done on the simulator.

The process is should be certified soon. It will be unique in being the first company to offer simulator training on aircraft used exclusively in the agriculture and fire fighting fields. The ground school will be predominantly modular in design, enabling the student to work at their pace, under instructor supervision and ensuring structured disciplined training. Ag Aviation Flight Academy have concluded an agreement with nearby Stellenbosch Flying Club.

The intention is to offer a complete ab-initio course to students with the focus on agricultural flying, which will see club students doing their ground school at the academy’s premises. Their initial flying will be on aircraft from the Stellenbosch Flying Club and once they have gained the necessary experience, move on to taildraggers, probably in the form of an RV7. Once the student is taildragger qualified, they will move on to the simulator for training on the Air Tractor at AAFA.

 ‘there is no doubt that a simulator is a vital tool’

As part of the student’s training, they must obtain a chemical applicators course and P-rating as these are the CAA requirements to be a crop-spraying pilot. The student can obtain these licences while completing his/her CPL training course. All students will also spend time working in support of crop spraying operations, to ensure they have a complete understanding of all aspects of commercial crop spraying. It is a unique package that will ensure the student once qualified will be licensed and operate the various Air Tractor aircraft, as well as have a complete understanding of all aspects of the job. The simulator is based on the AT-802 aircraft, there is no doubt that a simulator is a vital tool in the training of the modern pilot. The safety of simulator training and the economics of operating a simulator are compelling reasons to use as simulator for crop-spraying. The long term plan for AAA is to acquire an two seat Air Tractor 504. This model is unique in that it comes with a dual side by side cockpit, which is ideal for training new students, in all aspects of agricultural and actual aerial fire fighting.

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