Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) recently held a signing ceremony with Italian global high-tech company, Leonardo, for acceptance of two new helicopters to service the Ports of Durban and Richards Bay. Leonardo has manufactured the AgustaWestland (AW 109SP) helicopters, valued at around R250 million, at its plant in Vergiate, Italy, and they are expected to be delivered to TNPA in South Africa by June 2019.

Leading the TNPA delegation at the signing ceremony held in Italy on 17 April 2019 was TNPA’s Acting Chief Executive, Nozipho Mdawe, who signed acceptance on behalf of TNPA alongside Leonardo’s Head of Macro Region – Africa & Middle-East, Gianfranco Sottotetti.

Mdawe said the two new helicopters would help TNPA to improve ship turnaround times and the overall reliability of its marine service at the Ports of Durban and Richards Bay.

“This in turn will have benefits for our customers, the shipping lines and the global competitiveness of our ports,” she said.

Gianfranco Sottotetti, Head of Macro Region - Africa & Middle-East at Leonardo, and Nozipho Mdawe
Gianfranco Sottotetti, Head of Macro Region – Africa & Middle-East at Leonardo, and Nozipho Mdawe

“As TNPA, we are delighted that we are now so close to being in a position to respond to long-time industry calls, for a more efficient and reliable marine pilot service in our Ports of Durban and Richards Bay.

“These are presently the only ports in our complementary port system which use helicopters to transfer marine pilots onto and off visiting vessels. We are, however, looking to offer the service at our Port of Cape Town as well, to counter weather related disruptions there, where major swells impact on the availability of service during stormy conditions,” she said.

South Africa pioneered the concept of transferring marine pilots to and from vessels by helicopter and is understood to be one of only three countries in the world that offer the service.

TNPA has an existing fleet of three AW109 helicopters that are reaching the end of their life cycle. The procurement of the two new helicopters forms part of TNPA’s fleet renewal programme.

The AW109SP is a modern top-of-the-range light twin-engine helicopter with excellent operational flexibility as well as high safety levels through advanced navigation and situational awareness technology.  The two new AW109 SP’s are equipped with a Harbour Pilot Shuttle Kit, which features a hoist that enables this distinctive operation, as well as several other installations unique to Transnet’s aircraft.

The contract for the new helicopters includes a 25% supplier development obligation by the global supplier to ensure that the contract creates socio-economic benefits within South Africa. These would include job creation, skills development and where possible use of local, empowered companies and local materials or parts.