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Latest news on the defence and aerospace sector.

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    Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba used his maiden Budget to reinforce President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent announcement that stakes in cash-strapped State-owned companies (SoCs) could be sold to reduce their reliance on bail-outs and debt. Ramaphosa made the announcement in his response to the debate on his State of the Nation address on Tuesday, when he also announced that he would be chairing a new State-owned Company Coordinating Council to help improve governance at the country’s SOCs, which are at the centre of corruption allegations. Gigaba said that, during the coming year, government might be required to provide financial support to several SOCs. This, he said, would be done through a combination of disposing of noncore assets, securing strategic equity partners, or through direct capital injections.

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    The Centurion Aerospace Village (CAV), an initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is being revitalised after spending some years in the doldrums. The initiative dates back to 2006 and was formally opened in 2008, but to date has only had one tenant, local aeronautics enterprise AHRLAC.

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    Owing to its international competitiveness and high levels of innovation, the local defence industry has a global reach and an increasing export market despite the low national defence budget, says global defence and security company Saab Grintek Defence president and CEO Trevor Raman. "The phrase 'punching above our weight' best describes the South African defence industry's niche defence capabilities and product offering."

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    Owing to the Department of Defence's reduced funding allocation for defence in the country, acquisition agency Armscor has undergone the first phase of an organisational turnaround which will lead its top priorities being revenue generation, cost efficiency, and effective delivery of key products and services. "Potential revenue generation opportunities were identified and a new Business Enablement department was established as a support structure through which the 'On time, In time - towards a sustainable future' initiatives can be driven," says Armscor CEO Kevin Wakeford.

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    State-owned aerospace and defence technology company Denel is looking to grow its export market by exploring other areas of specialisation, innovation, customisation and cyberspace.

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    Trade union Solidarity warned on Friday that its members at State-owned defence industrial group Denel were ready to start protesting at the company. This follows the response by Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown to a recent urgent letter to her from Solidarity about, in the union’s words, “serious allegations of financial mismanagement and misrepresentations” made against the Denel group CEO, group CFO and board chairperson. The Minister’s reply, also in a letter, was that the union should continue to hold talks with the three officials. She had “delivered a blow to the workers at Denel by refusing to view in a serious light the numerous allegations” against the three senior Denel officials, the union stated in its press release. 

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    AltX-listed specialist antenna firm Alaris Holdings has posted a 67% year-on-year increase in profit after tax to R21.6-million for the six months ended December 31. Revenue increased by 21% to R102.6-million, headline earnings a share from continuing operations increased by 125% to 18.62c and net cash from operating activities increased by R33.3-million from an outflow of R14.9-million to an inflow of R18.4-million for the six months under review.

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    Local shipbuilder Damen Shipyards Cape Town (DSCT), part of the global Netherlands-based Damen Group, announced on Monday that it had received an order to build three inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) for the South African Navy (SAN). The order was placed by South African defence acquisitions, disposals and research and development agency Armscor. “We are very happy to receive this order and are looking forward to this continuation of our long-standing relationship with the South African Navy,” affirmed DSCT Chairperson Sam Montsi. The order forms part of the SAN’s Project Biro to acquire new offshore and inshore patrol vessels. The order was placed exactly four years after the shipyard received a previous order for the SAN, for two tugs, under project Canter. Each IPV will have a length of 62 m and a beam of 11 m.

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    Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan on Tuesday said the new political dispensation in South Africa and the reversal of the “bad things” which led to the capture of key state institutions by private interests will be regularly opposed by the beneficiaries of the corruption. “I think we all know now that we can’t talk about allegations of state capture, corruption and so on ... those are facts of life in South Africa. Any number, or pieces of evidence are now available to the South African public that [show that] various attempts have been made in the past decade or less, to take control of various parts of government - not to serve the people but private interests and to pilfer money,” Gordhan said in Pretoria.

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    Internal processes around the procurement of private aircraft for presidential flights have been revised following news reports that President Cyril Ramaphosa flew on an aircraft owned by the Moti company. Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was grilled in the National Assembly on Wednesday on the status of South Africa's VVIP jets, four of which are currently grounded.

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    Local shipbuilder Damen Shipyards Cape Town (DSCT), part of the global Netherlands-based Damen Group, announced at the end of February that it had received an order to build three inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) for the South African Navy (SAN). The order was placed by South African defence acquisitions, disposals and research and development agency Armscor. “We are very happy to receive this order and are looking forward to this continuation of our long-standing relationship with the South African Navy,” affirmed DSCT Chairperson Sam Montsi. Each IPV will have a length of 62 m and a beam of 11 m. The order forms part of the SAN’s Project Biro to acquire new offshore and inshore patrol vessels. The order was placed exactly four years after the shipyard received a previous order for the SAN, for two tugs, under project Canter.

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    South Africa’s second largest airline company, Comair, and American software-industrial group Honeywell announced on Friday that the airline has chosen the US group’s advanced cockpit technologies suite to equip the Boeing 737-800 MAX 8 airliners that it is acquiring. The suite will include a three-dimensional weather radar system (the IntuVue RDR-4000). “Our new fleet additions will enable us to be on the cutting edge of aerospace technology and in a leadership position among airlines in the region,” affirmed Comair CEO Erik Venter. “Supplementing that with some of the best navigation and weather equipment from Honeywell International Inc., means that we can keep our commitment to safety and ensure passengers reach their destinations quickly and comfortably.” “Maintaining reliable, safe service is of maximum importance to airlines, especially as they look for new and impactful ways to upgrade their fleets,” highlights Honeywell International aerospace leader: Africa Rudolph Louw. “Working with Honeywell International Inc. provides pilots with the intelligence they need to not only make incremental adjustments in the flight route to save time and fuel, but also avoid patches of turbulent weather. Ultimately this helps drive fuel and maintenance efficiencies, while promoting a positive passenger experience.”

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    The entry into service of eight next generation Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft with South Africa’s private-sector Comair airline group will cut the airline’s fuel expenditure per seat by 15%. This was highlighted by Comair CEO Erik Venter at a press conference on Thursday. (This assumes that the fuel price remains similar to what it currently is; if the fuel price increases, the savings will be greater.) The first of the 737 MAX 8s will be delivered next year. Comair has already cut its fuel burn per seat by 54% since 2001. This has been one of the results of a continuous programme of modernisation of its all-Boeing 737 fleet, with the new models also being bigger and carrying more passengers than their predecessors. This has resulted in the airline increasing, also since 2001, the number of passengers it carries by 155%. The airline operates two brands, British Airways (in Southern Africa) and low cost carrier Kulula. Divided between these brands is a fleet of 26 airliners, eight of which are leased and the remainder belong to the group. The airline normally leases between one-third and one-half of its fleet, because of the flexibility this brings. On the other hand, the lessors make good margins, he quipped.

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    South Africa’s largest private-sector commercial aviation aerostructures manufacturing company, Aerosud Aviation (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aerosud Holdings), warns that the local aerospace industry is going through tough times and is not receiving the kind of support that competitors in other developing countries, including elsewhere in Africa, are receiving. “2017 was a tough year and this year will be more tough,” affirms Aerosud Aviation MD Johan Steyn. (Even so, his company won the Exporter category of the 5th South African Annual Business Awards for 2017; in 2016 it won in the Manufacturer of the Year category.) The local industry is suffering from a number of different challenges and problems.

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    Creamer Media's Chanel de Bruyn speaks to Engineering News Senior Deputy Editor Rebecca Campbell about the key themes discussed at the recent South African National Space Agency for National Development Conference, including funding constrains and growth opportunities for the South African space sector.

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    The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on Monday that its Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (officially abbreviated to Dstl) had, in cooperation with the University of Sheffield, developed of a radical new method of producing titanium parts. Dstl has so far invested almost £30 000 in this research and development programme. Titanium combines high strength and corrosion resistance with low weight. It is as strong as steel but is only 50% of the weight of steel. But it is some ten times more expensive than steel and it is difficult and expensive to make titanium products. The new technology is called FAST-forge and cuts the number of steps required to manufacture titanium parts from 40 to just two. The technology has been proved at the laboratory scale and a pilot plant (described by the UK MoD as “large-scale”) has been completed and will soon start operation.

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    Stephan Burger has resigned as CEO of Denel Land Systems (DLS). Burger, who is one of the longest-serving members of the Denel group, was appointed CEO of DLS in 2004.

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    Thousands of people protested in Ghana's capital Accra on Wednesday against the expansion of its defence cooperation with the United States, in a rare public display of opposition to the growing foreign military presence in West Africa. Demonstrators blowing vuvuzelas and beating drums filled Accra's business district, holding placards criticising a new deal with Washington that they say threatens Ghana's sovereignty.

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    South Africa's current Earth observation satellite programme, presently known as EO-Sat1, is still not fully funded, South African National Space Agency (Sansa) Executive Director: Space Programme Amal Khatri told "Engineering News". He was speaking on the sidelines of the recent Sansa Space for National Development conference at its Hartebeesthoek (Space Operations) facility, west of Pretoria, on Wednesday.

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    In August last year, the US-based Space Foundation reported that the worldwide space economy had been worth $329-billion in 2016, up from $323-billion in 2015. The Foundation noted that the rise had been due to the increase in commercial space activities (there had been tiny declines in Governmental space budgets, including in the US). In fact, in 2016 commercial space activities accounted for 76% of the global space economy, with a value of $253-billion.

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