The concept of a locally-designed and manufactured passenger aircraft to serve regional destinations has been taken a further step forward by Denel at the African Aerospace and Defence Exhibition in Tshwane.
Riaz Saloojee, the Group CEO of Denel says the plan for the proposed South African Regional Aircraft (SARA) has been endorsed by a wide range of government and industry stakeholders and Denel will continue to lead research and feasibility studies to make the project a reality.
“The rapid growth in air travel on the African continent has created a demand for a new generation aircraft that can fly point-to-point and link regional centres that are not currently accessible for passenger flights,” says Mr Saloojee. “There is proven capacity within the local aerospace industry to deliver on an indigenous South African aircraft, as demonstrated with the success we achieved in the development of the Rooivalk helicopter.
Denel is already collaborating with academics and post-graduate students at local universities to develop a technology demonstrator of the SARA. In principle, the company has received high-level support of the concept from various stakeholders within the South African Aerospace community, including government departments, industry, industry associations and academia..
Mr Saloojee says the SARA project is in line with the country’s Aerospace Sector Development Plan which has identified aerospace as a “priority sector.” It is an exciting and challenging project that will come to fruition over the next decade and ensure the participation of the country’s next generation of aeronautical engineers and artisans.
“It will confirm South Africa’s reputation as a high-tech powerhouse and create global interest in the country’s advanced manufacturing capacity,” he says.
The next step would be to prove the viability of the SARA and show how it can revolutionise air transportation in Africa and the developing world and become a catalyst for economic growth, infrastructure development, tourism and job creation in rural and outlying areas.
Among the challenges will be to design a 15-passenger aircraft that will be able to take off and land on short airfields in regional centres that are currently not served by scheduled flights. Only 17 of the more than 420 local airfields in South Africa currently form part of a scheduled airline service.
Regular passenger flights to such destinations will help to unlock the economic potential of previously marginalised areas and deliver significant benefits to local and regional economies, says Mr Saloojee.