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Flying Across the "Rainbow Nation"

Posted 3 years 38 days ago ago by Admin


Whoever has visited the southernmost country on the African continent agrees that it rightfully holds its nickname “The Rainbow Nation.” 

South Africa has an intense, amazing history and because of its multicultural diversity it received this nickname. In all honesty, South Africa really is a colorful and diverse area, and not just from a cultural aspect. It holds breathtaking mountain ranges, offers bustling city life, unique and one-of-a-kind wildlife safaris, takes you down sun-soaked coasts, and introduces you to amazing and vibrant cultures. 

South Africa is also home to National Airways Corporation (NAC), which is the largest general aviation company in Africa and one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Decades of flying 

National Airways Corporation has over seven decades of flying experience on African soil. It was established in 1946 and survived difficult and demanding political conditions and pressures throughout the years. The team proudly explains that “NAC’s strength lies in the relationships it has built over seven decades with both clients and suppliers. These robust partnerships enable NAC’s experienced and professional staff to provide market leading, cost effective solutions customized to our clients’ specific requirements.”

Remote Nation

South Africa lies thousands of miles from major African cities such as Lagos and Cairo and more than 6,000 miles (10,000 km) away from most of Europe, North America and eastern Asia. The country has a feeling of being a small continent on its own, with unique as well as extreme political and cultural patterns that apply only to itself. And this might be the exact reason why some South African companies like NAC turned out so successful and managed to conquer international soil as well. 

Sabrina Valentine, NAC's operations controller, explains “NAC is based at Lanseria International Airport in Johannesburg and operates a South African network of offices at Rand Airport and at Ultimate Heliport in Johannesburg, the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, and Virginia Airport in Durban (in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province). NAC’s state-of-the-art fixed base operation (FBO) at Lanseria International Airport offers clients a comprehensive suite of services, inclusive of aircraft management, on a 24/7 basis. Our international operations business has offices in Johannesburg and Malta and our asset ownership and leasing businesses, Awesome Flight Logistics and Awesome Asset Securities, are based in Johannesburg and Perth. Specialized Aircraft Services is located in Wichita, Kansas, USA.”

You name it; they do it

Valentine gives insight into what their company offers. “NAC offers a full range of aviation products and services to the aircraft and helicopter markets. These include new and pre-owned sales, maintenance, parts, charter, international operations, air ambulance services, aircraft leasing, and pilot, technical, and air traffic control training.” 

As Valentine continued talking, I found out that this was really a brief explanation of what they do. Their business is one that covers so many fields and operations, thus proving why they achieved such a strong position in the aviation space in the past decades.  “Charters can be arranged to corporate venues, game lodges or out-of-reach destinations,” she says. “If you are unsure of where to go, we also have several recommendable tours packaged for your convenience.” NAC’s expert helicopter operations team can also make some recommendations.

“NAC provides specialist support and assistance in applications such as firefighting, construction hoisting, and cargo slinging. Our experienced pilots have extensive slinging and lifting experience in both the military and civilian sectors. Our operations division has the necessary equipment for a variety of slinging operations. Our crew also boasts extensive expertise in game capture and counting, high-value cargo delivery, geological surveys, and mine and powerline inspections,” explains Valentine.

For photographic and film solutions, you need look no further than NAC. Valentine tells me that they have worked with the industry’s top professionals for many years and can also assist with the hiring of professional equipment designed for specific use on board helicopters.

Helicopter air ambulance services can mean the difference between life and death. NAC operates several helicopters equipped with state-of-the-art EMS equipment that can be hired for patient transport, or as standby for sporting and other events. On the security front, NAC works in association with Netstar, a premier vehicle tracking specialist that utilizes helicopters to locate stolen vehicles.

NAC's helicopter pilot training is conducted at the newly developed, state-of-the-art “Ultimate Heliport” in Midrand, Johannesburg. The school has extensive experience in training, from ab initio to advanced commercial qualifications, and their graduates have gone on to become captains with helicopter operators across Africa and the world. Their programs include instrument rating, instructors rating, conversion training, game capture and cull ratings, external load rating, and all types of advanced pilot training. 

As NAC offers such a various range of services their client list is equally varied. They range from mining clients to VIP guests to government officials, aeromedical organizations, exclusive lodges, forestry organizations, and non-governmental organizations. 

Fly high, far, and safe

Africa seems the perfect place to fly helicopters with no major obstacles. But it turns out it does face a few challenges. “The main challenge is hot and high conditions, as well as the nightmare of fuel logistics with the vast areas operated in,” Valentine explains.

These challenging conditions can also bring unique and memorable experiences. Chief Flight Instructor Vicky Sankey describes one of her best experiences she had flying so high. “I was very fortunate to fly to Drakensberg Mountains where we do our annual flight training and to where I took the Bell 505 helicopter. At 11,000 feet we could actually operate with it amazingly. We landed on that altitude and the aircraft still had ample power, she just blew our mind! The machine itself had sufficient power and at 11,000 feet we could fly in snow conditions, and swoop down to the valley; the competence was just amazing!”

NAC holds quite a few unbelievable experiences with the Bell helicopters. Marnus Gouws, chief pilot at NAC, indicates that the Bell 407 is the main “workhorse” in their facility. They find it very reliable and are super happy with the ride quality and maintenance support.  “We can take it anywhere around the world and we will always have fast and reliable maintenance support.  With a 407, we once went to rescue a gyrocopter that crash landed on a mine dump. The 407 gave an amazing performance at saving the injured crew as well as at airlifting the gyrocopter,” says Gouws.

Alister Brown, division head and partner in NAC helicopter operations, recalls one of his most memorable missions with Bell helicopters. “We rescued two lions from caged hunting and transferred them in the back of a Bell UH1 Huey helicopter. We also had a veterinarian with us staying at the back with the two male lions who were snoring away and I just remember thinking to myself that I hope they won’t wake up before landing. They didn’t, ha-ha!”

Gary Phillips, executive director of the Helicopter Division, explains that NAC is and has been a Bell independent representative for the last 28 years. “In Johannesburg, Bell helicopters are mainly used for executive and corporate transport, but we also use them  for tourism flights around the Cape Town peninsula. We also do emergency medical services in the Eastern Cape and occasionally we do other utility missions when required.” He continues that one of primary reasons they operate Bell helicopters is for their safety and reliability. 

The team emphasizes that in all the years of flying with Bell helicopters they have never stumbled upon any major problems with the aircraft. Adding that most of their aircrafts are maintained by the NAC maintenance division at Rand Airport, which is an approved Bell client services provider as well.

The  rainbow skies of South Africa have been “colored” in NAC colors for decades now and I can easily say they will still stay up there for long decades to come. The team works with passion and has a great vision for the future to expand their HEMS (helicopter emergency medical services) operations as well as their firefighting operations. Most definitely they will satisfy their clients again and again with their wonderful personalities and professional work.