Police down to one helicopter as delays, vacancies cripple air support

Issued by Bobby Stevenson, MPL
Shadow MEC for Community Safety

The Eastern Cape police service is down to one operational helicopter to service the entire province, while only half of the required pilots are available for duty.

This is one more than last year, when all four were out of operation. Shockingly, however, two of the three helicopters are only expected to return to operation in June 2023, as there are significant delays in getting them serviced.

The latest quarterly crime stats have shown concerning increases in violent crimes. Murder is skyrocketing, with close to 13 people on average murdered daily, while the unacceptably high numbers of rape persist. Car hijackings have shot up, as have robberies of business premises.

This worrying trend shows that there is a declining respect for human life, with people engaging in senseless and brutal crimes. Eyes in the sky play a key role in ensuring these criminals are caught, but this is currently not the case.

Criminals need to live in fear of the sound of helicopters overhead and searchlights at night. This is what is required to hunt them down if we are going to have an effective criminal justice system.

In response to a parliamentary question, the Community Safety MEC, Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe, revealed that of the four helicopters allocated to the Eastern Cape, only one is currently operational.

Tikana-Gothiwe explained that the delays were due to only one service provider being appointed.

She also revealed that of the eight pilots, only four were still working for SAPS, as three had bought discharges, while the fourth had passed away from Covid-19. Resources are being wasted, as the remaining pilots are being paid while these helicopters remain out of order.

Tikana-Gothiwe revealed that there are also no longer fixed-wing aircraft available to the Eastern Cape SAPS. There used to be a dedicated Pilatus P6 fixed-wing aircraft servicing the province.

These helicopters are also necessary to help fight against gang violence, drug smuggling in and around our seashores and many other crimes. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft could also be used to combat the escalating car hijackings and business robberies.

I will follow up with the MEC to request a review of the current service level agreements in place for these helicopters, with the intent of speeding up turnaround times for maintenance and repairs.

It is simply unacceptable that helicopters are grounded for up to three years while waiting for a maintenance inspection.

Critical vacancies need to be filled and these helicopters need to get back in the air so that they can fulfil their mandate, and assist SAPS on the ground in bringing criminals to justice!