French manufacturer Airbus has entered into contracts worth R4bn with three South African component manufacturers.
Simon Ward, deputy head of international operations at Airbus, said just over R500m was for work related to Airbus’s prototype A350 aircraft which was still to be built.
The three companies are Denel Saab Aerostructures (DSA), Aerosud and Cape firm Cobham Satcom.
The three are already involved in manufacturing components for Airbus aircraft such as the A400M macro airlifter.
Some of the companies have been working with Airbus for more than four years and there was great concern about the future of the relationship, after the government last year cancelled Airbus contracts for eight A400M airlifters when cost increases allegedly spiralled out of control.
Ward said South Africa was Airbus’s biggest joint venture partner in Africa.
Airbus is working with only three countries in Africa, namely South Africa, and Tunisia and Morocco in north Africa. South Africa is by far its biggest partner on the continent.
Aerosud, which is situated in Centurion, and DSA in Kempton Park, handle most of the South African manufacturing. Aerosud constructs most of the interior covering of the aircraft’s frame.
Aerosud also manufactures the aircraft’s wingtips and storage racks for electronic equipment in the carrier. Denel is responsible for producing the sections of the airframes above the aircraft, where the front and back of the frame, as well as the wings, meet. This ensures, among other things, even airflow over the aircraft.
Ward said that in many respects South African expertise is unequalled elsewhere in the world.
He suggested this might be because South Africans are innovative.
Ward said for instance that the only welding done on the A400M is done in South Africa.
The South African Air Force had wanted to replace its Hercules C-130carriers with the A400M, but this plan appears to have been put on the backburner.
Didier Vernet of Airbus Military said the A400M programme was back on course following initial delays in the project owing to engine problems.
Today there are already 184 orders for the A400M.
The A400M has a range of 6 110km, which makes any destination in Africa easy to reach.
Vernet declined to disclose the estimated price of the carrier. It varies per contract but one should not focus on the purchase price, he said. Over 30 years the total cost of an A400M, including purchase price and after-sales service, would be far less than any of the other options.
Vernet said the A400M, carrying twice the load of a C130, could fly just as far – or with the same cargo have twice the reach.