South African ports receive two new transfer helicopters

A helicopter is seen in Richards Bay. Credit: Zululand Observer

South Africa’s east coast ports of Durban and Richards Bay have received two new helicopters, valued at USD16.7 million, to transfer marine pilots to and from vessels.

The helicopters, which are manufactured by Italian global high-tech company Leonardo, have been a priority for Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) under the Transnet market demand strategy and its fleet renewal programme, which seeks to improve operational efficiency and safety in the ports.

“The AgustaWestland [AW109SP] helicopters will replace ones that are reaching the end of their life cycle. The new craft will bring benefits for our customers and improve the global competitiveness of our ports, resulting in economic benefits to the region,” Nozipho Mdawe, acting TNPA chief executive, said.

The AW109SP is a light twin-engine helicopter with operational flexibility and high safety levels, thanks to navigation and situational awareness technology. The two new craft are equipped with a harbour pilot shuttle kit, which features a hoist that facilitates transfer operations.

The contract for the new helicopters includes a supplier development obligation by the global supplier to ensure that the contract created socio-economic benefits within South Africa. These included job creation, skills development, and where possible use of local, empowered companies and local materials or parts.

South Africa is a pioneer in using helicopters to transfer marine pilots (dating back to more than 20 years), and is one of only three countries to provide this service, according to TNPA.

Durban and Richards Bay are the country’s only two ports with marine pilot helicopters, but there are plans to introduce the service in Cape Town in 2022. The port is notorious for weather-related disruptions that impact the availability of its pilot boat service.

In 2018 TNPA conducted feasibility tests using a helicopter from Durban. The tests confirmed that introducing a helicopter service in Cape Town would significantly improve safety and efficiency at the port.