In Part 1, MS&T’s Dim Jones visits the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA), based near the town of Oudtshoorn in the Klein Karoo. Some 60 miles south of Oudtshoorn, at Mossel Bay, at the western end of the Garden Route in the Southern Cape, Starlite Aviation is providing similar training services for RSA nationals and personnel from other nations. Jones continues his journey.

Starlite started operations in South Africa in 1999 as a helicopter training school. Since then, it has developed into a privately-owned global aviation company, headquartered in the Republic of Ireland and operating in five continents, offering a range of helicopter services, including relief contract work, oil and gas, MedEvac, passenger and cargo transport, sales and charter, pilot training, aircraft maintenance and personnel training and component overhaul, supply and distribution. The company, which is approved as a service provider for both the UN Procurement Division and the UN World Food Program, has operated in some of the more entertaining ‘hot spots’ of the world, such as Afghanistan, the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in Kosovo – in support of which missions include NVG, FLIR surveillance, fast-roping deployment and VIP transport – and, more recently, Ebola relief in Liberia. Starlite’s 70-aircraft fleet, in support of which more than 200 aircrew are employed, includes Sikorsky S92, Puma and Super Puma, Airbus AS332 C1e (for which Starlite was the launch customer), Bell 407, 212 and 412, MBB/Kawasaki BK117 and AgustaWestland AW139. South Africa remains a major centre of operations for Starlite, with a main base in Virginia Airport, Durban, a maintenance facility in Johannesburg (for which Starlite trains its own maintenance personnel) and a subsidiary site at Mossel Bay, which is home to the Starlite International Aviation Training Academy. This was established in 2011, consequent on the construction of a new international airport north of Durban which has made access to training areas from Virginia Airport difficult; continuing pressure on real estate makes it likely that Virginia Airport will be forced to close at some point.


During its 16 years of operation, the Academy has trained over 2200 RW pilots and more than 150 instructors, both military and civil, and has amassed over 100,000 hours of instructional flying, averaging in excess of 7000 hrs per year – full capacity is estimated at 9200 hours. The highly experienced instructional staff, some ex-South African Air Force (SAAF), boasts a combined total of over 70,000 operational flying hours; all instructors rotate through the ‘operational’ side of the company on a frequent basis, in order to maintain personal skills and to ensure a regular update of corporate knowledge. The Academy’s flight safety record is outstanding; with a world average of 25 accidents per 100000 flying hours, Starlite’s track record is one accident in 100,000 hrs.

RW aircraft in use are the Guimbal Cabri G2, the Robinson R22, R44 and turbine R66, plus any other of the single- and twin-turbine aircraft listed above, depending on the customer’s requirements. Procedural IF training is conducted on EASA/JAA/FAA/SACAA-approved simulators. If required, training can also be conducted on customer-owned aircraft; an example is the AW109 for the RSA Ports Authority.

The client list, mostly regional but including some from further afield, is wide and impressive. From 2006 to 2012, the Academy provided basic RW training for the SAAF, comprising 2 intakes of 8 pilots each per year; I am informed that, since 2012, the SAAF has not trained any RW pilots. Other military or paramilitary customers have included the Kenyan Air Force and Army, the Botswana Defence Force and the Swaziland Air Force, the UAE Armed Forces (SF and Instructors), Chinese test pilots, and the Police Forces of South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia and Dubai. In addition, hundreds of private individuals have undergone training and are now employed in such diverse fields as offshore oil and gas, MEDEVAC, security, peacekeeping, and game-capture and anti-poaching.

Training Scope

The scope of training is from ab-initio PPL-H through CPL-H to ATPL-H, from single-piston to twin-turbine and including IR, Night, Sling and Hoist and instructor ratings as required. Ancillary training includes ICAO English Language Proficiency and CRM, and specialist training in such disciplines as NVG (for which there are many requests, both military and civil), Power and Pipeline Inspection, Airborne Law Enforcement and Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET). A typical 52-week ab-initio course up to twin-turbine CPL-H(IR) will include 600 hours of ground instruction and 200-240 hours of flying. A graduate will have CRM and Dangerous Goods certification, mountain flying and Sling and Hoist experience. English Language training, for which Starlite has a minimum entry level requirement, is up to an additional 14 weeks/450 hours; this and CRM training are provided by external instructors. For those requiring it, HUET (‘The Dunker’) is carried out at Simonstown. The courses include all necessary examinations; PPL exams are now conducted on-line from the Mossel Bay facility, which can present a problem during internet and power outages; CPL tests are still paper-based, and are carried out monthly at George by the CAA.

Fixed-wing training at the Academy is relatively in its infancy, but there are plans to expand it. Basic training is conducted on the Australian Jabiru, the Cessna 150 and the Piper Archer, advanced on the C172RG Cutlass (with retractable gear) and Piper Arrow, and twin on the Piper Seneca and King Air 200.

Until recently, simulation was not a great part of training at the Academy and, as the Head of Training, Cassie Nel, admits, historically Flight and Navigation Procedures Trainers (FNPT) in Africa were little better than home gaming computers. However, acquisition of the latest Level 2 Instrument and Multi-Crew Co-operation (MCC) trainers has changed that, and the Academy’s Elite S723T simulator replicates an AS355 Twin Squirrel and, in addition to instrument and procedures training, allows practice of single-engine, hydraulic and tail-rotor failures, as well as degradation of other systems. It can also be used to practise ship-borne and oil platform operations.

The Academy Facility, custom-built in 2012, is situated to the north-west of the town on the new airfield, which has a 3700ft paved runway. It is located within an extensive General Flying Area, with access to all forms of flying conditions - mountain, hot-and-high, coast and valley - on the doorstep. The weather factor, although not quite as benign as at Oudtshoorn, is nevertheless very good – less than 15 days per year are lost to weather. The prevailing sea breeze results in an entirely different weather pattern to nearby George airport, which is equipped with a Cat 1 ILS facility for instrument training. The courses are mostly residential, and the Academy leases excellent local accommodation for its students, including at the nearby Pinnacle Point Golf Club which is built on cliffs overlooking the sea and, frankly, has to be seen to be believed.


Not content to rest on its laurels, the Academy has plans, for both the short- and medium-term. Short-term plans include EASA training (on the back of the company’s Irish Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC)), and the expansion of fixed-wing training. The five current Cabri G2 helicopters are due to be supplemented by six more this year, and Starlite will be the sole agent in Africa for the aircraft, as it had previously been for the Robinson. The G2 has proved to be an excellent training vehicle, reliable, economical and good to fly; a minor disadvantage is that the non-folding three-blade rotor disc uses up more space in the hangar. There is also an aspiration to extend the technical facilities at Mossel Bay, and to purpose-build co-located student accommodation. However, these developments are currently in abeyance, pending negotiations with the Mossel Bay planning authorities; hopefully, since the Academy provides a considerable proportion of the airport’s funding, they will be resolved satisfactorily.

Starlite also has a 10-year plan to enable its clients to set up their own independent centres of aviation excellence. In the first five-year period, the aim would be to develop personnel – pilots, instructors and examiners, engineers and apprentices, Quality and Safety Officers, air traffic controllers and, where appropriate, Airborne Law Enforcement Officers – and equipment: basic and advanced training and operational aircraft, including those with mission-specific equipment; simulators; and a training and operational base with all the necessary infrastructure. Starlite would also assist with aircrew selection, by suggesting identification criteria for potential candidates, and a multi-phase selection process involving behaviour profiling, psychometric assessment and aptitude testing.

During the following five years, Starlite would conduct progressively diminishing oversight in partnership with the end user, resulting in fully-autonomous operations at the 10-year point. Interest in the 10-year plan has come from the US, and from many regional customers, such as Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Interestingly, there is no trade from another regional power – Zimbabwe – which appears to be conducting its own military training on ex-SAAF aircraft, and civil training also with its own resources.

These plans, coupled with the projected growth of aviation in all parts of Africa and, therefore, demand for quality training, augur well for the future of Starlite and its Training Academy.

A Growing Role for Simulation

As the Starlite Academy’s Head of Training, Cassie Nel, observed in the accompanying article, flight simulation has not, thus far, been a leading element of South Africa’s defence and aviation industry. All that may be about to change, however, with the signing, in September 2014, of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Denel – the state-owned aerospace and defence technology conglomerate – CAE and Elisa, a local South African services company. The aim is to set up a South Africa National Training & Simulation Centre (SANTSC), an aviation training centre of excellence offering simulation-based aircrew and technical training for both military and civil aviation, and also training in emergency and disaster management; this aspiration has a parallel in the joint-venture CAE Brunei Multi-Purpose Training Centre (MPTC) in Brunei Darussalam, opened in 2014.

Phase 1 of the SANTSC venture is expected to be the upgrade of the existing facilities at the Denel Technical Academy at Kempton Park, Johannesburg, which currently specialises in apprentice training for aircraft mechanics. The upgrade will include equipping the classroom facilities with modern ST for computer-based learning in Avionics, Aero-Structures and Propulsion. Subsequent phases envisage providing the facility with state-of-the-art flight simulators, thereby offering pilot training, and ST-based programmes to enable emergency and disaster management training and other governmental and commercial requirements.

At the time of the MOU signing, Mike Kgobe, CEO of Denel said that the SANTSC would contribute to the transformation of the South African aviation industry, the retention of skills and the empowerment of women and youth from disadvantaged communities, and that Denel was committed to increased cooperation with public-sector players such as the SAAF, and with the broader aviation industry. CAE’s Defence and Security Vice-President and General Manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Ian Bell, said that CAE was proud to establish the beginning of a partnership with Denel, and that CAE’s simulation-based technologies and proven learning methodologies could help provide the foundation for high-quality training that ultimately enhances the safety, security, and efficiency of professionals operating in mission-critical environments such as aviation and defence.

Figures showing the projected growth of aviation in Africa – the imminent delivery of 1800 new aircraft, and an annual training requirement for 3600 skilled people – indicate that there is undoubtedly a market for training services, and the establishment of the $100bn US-Africa Development Fund will support increased industrialisation in the region. Ian Bell believes that there is an appetite for investment in South Africa, and that what started as a defence venture could eventually embrace much more. Equally, what is currently a plan for synthetic training only could eventually be broadened to include live training.

Aviation is not the only area of RSA defence M&S in which developments are taking place. On 15 May, the South African Navy opened the new simulation centre at its Maritime Warfare Training Centre at SAS Simonsberg. This facility, a joint venture between the SAN and industry, includes a bridge simulator, a helicopter simulator, a flight deck simulator and a PC-based submarine trainer. The equipment was provided by Cybicom Atlas Defence, a Simon’s Town-based company, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the nation’s principal R&D organisation, based in Pretoria.

Meanwhile, academic interest in aerospace modelling and simulation is promoted by, among other organisations, the Aeronautical Dynamics Simulation, Modelling and Control (ADSC) at Centre of Excellence in Autonomous Flight at the University of Stellenbosch, part of the National Aerospace Centre, based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. – Dim Jones