The Air Wing operates a variety of aircraft, fixed-wing as well as helicopters, which are based at airports around the country. They are used in many policing operations such as crime prevention, vehicle tracking and pursuit, dagga plantation spraying, crowd control and monitoring, VIP transport and search and rescue operations.
The current fleet consists of 36 aircraft:
- 15 x H125 helicopters
- 6 x Robinson R44 helicopters
- 2 x MacDonnell Douglas 500 helicopters
- 1 x BK 117 helicopter
- 9 x Pilatus PC 6 aeroplanes
- 1 x Pilatus PC12 aeroplane
- 1 x King Air 90 aeroplane
- 1x Cessna Citation Sovereign Jet
The aircraft are strategically placed in different regions. All the helicopters are single pilot operated, together with a crew of airborne Law Enforcement Officers. The primary missions undertaken are airborne law enforcement missions such as crime prevention, as well as responding to call-outs for armed robberies, cash-in transit heists, and, of course, search and rescue operations. There is no set configuration for mission type, really, except where relevant mission equipment is required, such as a hoist, camera, or slings.
Responding to emergencies is outside the Air Wing’s responsibilities, except for search and rescue operations, which are minimal in number. The bulk of Air Wing responsibilities entail responding to crime call-outs. The Air Wing also provides air support during the monitoring of public protests and major events, including support to specialised units such as the Special Task Force, National Intervention Unit and Tactical Response Teams. A total of 2,695 airborne law enforcement operations were conducted during the 2017/2018 financial year (April 2017 to April 2018), which translates to an average of seven operations/events per day. In terms of the breakdown per type, 2,238 of the operations/events were conducted by helicopters and 465 by aeroplanes.
AirMed&Rescue had a brief word with Brigadier Mahlangu of the Air Wing.
For how long have you worked in the SAPS, and the Air Wing?
I have been with the SAPS for 27 years, with five years in the Air Wing.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
The environment is highly specialised, technical and regulated which requires absolute focus and keeping up with the ever-changing dynamics. Its speciality and challenges make one derive more pleasure and motivation from the work. It’s one environment where safety is an apex priority, and thus as a manager it gives you powers which you will not have in an ordinary environment. Responsibility and accountability are the order of the day.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
My ultimate everyday goal is to ensure availability of serviceable, airworthy and well-equipped aircraft, proficient and well-trained pilots and crew for deployment at any given time. Should I not be able to provide such, it poses a challenge for me. However, with the support I get from everybody challenges are handled.