June 2022 – IT IS SAID THAT AVIATION leads an economic downturn and lags the recovery. The South African economy may be getting over the disaster of the Covid pandemic but the general aviation industry is still lagging the much awaited bounce back.
The relatively low turnout of just 35 entrants for the President’s Trophy Air Race is a good indicator.
For this reason it is not surprising that the two key aircraft builders in South Africa are exporting almost all their production. Sling Aircraft have done a magnificent marketing job, not just in South Africa, but internationally. It is therefore not surprising that almost 90% of their new sales are now outside South Africa.
There is another significant aircraft manufacturer based inside Africa, and it too was started by Mike Blyth and grew in the fertile ground of Springs Airfield. This aircraft builder is Rainbow SkyReach, which has quietly got on with the job of achieving significant worldwide sales with its development of the original tube and fabric Cheetah microlite into the current BushCat.
The original Cheetah has evolved into a very capable little aircraft that is finding a niche in bush flying operations and is proving particularly useful for game patrol work. This month’s flight test is of a BushCat that is being used with great effect in the Hluhluwe and Imfolozi game reserves.
90% OF NEW SALES ARE NOW OUTSIDE SOUTH AFRICA
It is significant that it is the non-type certified light sport aircraft that are achieving success in South African operations. This is thanks to the enlightened regulatory regime created by the then Commissioner of Civil Aviation, Colin Jordaan, back in 2007.
It would be reasonable to think that demand for the more modern and affordable NTCAs is rapidly overtaking non-type certified aircraft. However there has been a remarkable bounce back in demand for classic type-certified single engine aircraft and we have seen asking price rises of as much as 30 to 50% on the more popular types.
Of concern though is that it would it appear from looking at the advertisements that far too many aircraft are now being sold by people who are hanging up their headsets and getting out of flying.
The key problem must obviously be operating costs. Leading the list of high costs is Avgas at over R30 per litre, and of course the weakness of the Rand has made replacement parts prohibitive.
It is therefore perhaps natural that we see in the aircraft register review yet again a significant component of our fleet being exported. It is also noteworthy how few aircraft are actually changing hands. All of this indicates a significant downturn in the general aviation industry.
But as always, there will be a recovery. It may seem all doom and gloom now, but it is worth remembering that the industry has recovered from greater setbacks in the past.