Airbus to assist with Rooivalk upgrade, as it reaffirms Africa commitment

30th September 2016 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Airbus Group (parent of Airbus, Airbus Defence & Space and Airbus Helicopters) is committed to helping develop aeronautical industries in Africa, because it believes that this makes good business sense.

For the group, Africa is defined as sub-Saharan Africa plus Moroco (with Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria grouped with the Middle East). “We’re [in Africa] to do business, but we want to support the African aeronautical industry, so that it will support our business in the next decade,” Airbus Group International VP for Africa Vincent Larnicol told Engineering News at the recent Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2016 exhibition. “We want to support Africa and, hopefully, this means business for us.

“We focus on countries – countries we believe we should work with, support and enhance their [aeronautical] ecosystems,” he explained. Starting in the north-west, these countries are Morocco, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Angola, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia.

“Our strategy is to strongly support and enhance the local, particularly private, entrepreneurship,” he reported. “We believe in supporting entrepreneurs in these countries and training the future engineers, technicians and entrepreneurs in these countries. Our primary objective is to support the future [aeronautical] champions of Africa. We are on the verge of identifying those champions, who believe in our industry and who identify opportunities.”

“We believe in a turning point in Africa,” he highlighted. “We believe the level of development has reached the point at which people are interested in aeronautics and space. And Africans want to travel, want aeromedical services, and use satellite imagery for urban planning, like everywhere else. This is good for us!” He also pointed out that African governments were adopting the same kind of business approaches already employed by governments in the rest of the world. And the growing African middle classes were demanding safe travel and safe cities. These all had consequences and benefits for the aeronautical sector.

Of the countries that Airbus Group is focusing on, South Africa has a strong and well-established aerospace industry. Morocco has a significant aeronautical industry. Nigeria and Ethiopia are developing aeronautical industries, while Ghana and Kenya already have strong educational and skills training capabilities. “This is the line of our strategy,” affirmed Larnicol. “We want to support the aeronautical industry and the related educational and academic world in these six countries.”

This strategy provides a large-scale framework for specific projects by the different subsidiaries of the group. One such project was announced at AAD 2016 – Airbus Helicopters and Denel Aviation are to cooperate in the upgrading of the South African Air Force’s Denel Rooivalk Mark (Mk) 1 attack helicopters. The two companies signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to this end at the exhibition at Air Force Base Waterkloof, in Centurion, just south of Pretoria.

The upgrade will take the form of a phased programme and will improve the supportability of the helicopter, improve reliability and replace obsolete components. The Rooivalk Mk 1 already uses Airbus Helicopter technologies in its dynamic components. The MoU also includes a proposed action plan for the companies to follow, subject to approval by the South African government.

“The MoU allows us to modernise the [Rooivalk] platform and address issues of obsolescence, using existing Airbus Helicopters technologies,” Airbus Helicopters Southern Africa MD Arnaud Montalvo told Engineering News. “It’s mostly about the drivetrain – the dynamic components and the tail rotor as well. The current Rooivalk drivetrain has a lot of commonality with that of the older generation Super Puma. The idea of the cooperation is to find what more recent technologies could fit into the Rooivalk and extend the life of those critical components. The timescale will be revealed by Denel. We’ve agreed to support Denel, within the timeframe that they set.”

Further, work carried out as part of this upgrade programme will also support future developments of the Rooivalk. “As part of the Rooivalk roadmap we developed, we will launch a market assessment and feasibility study into a modernised version of the Rooivalk incorporating enhanced operational capabilities,” pointed out Denel Aviation CEO Mike Kgobe in a press release. “Our ultimate objective is to offer a South African product which will provide an attractive solution for potential export customers around the world.”