US tightens noose on local aviation training firm over ties to China

TFASA delivers specialist flight training that includes the full spectrum of advanced operational and tactical training for both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. SUPPLIED

TFASA delivers specialist flight training that includes the full spectrum of advanced operational and tactical training for both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. SUPPLIED

Published Jul 4, 2024


The US Department of Commerce has confirmed that local-based aviation company, The Flying Test Academy of South Africa (TFASA) had been added to the trade restrictions list in the belief that it offered training services to Chinese pilot cadets, contrary to its national security or foreign policy interests.

The End-User Review Committee (ERC) yesterday also added other companies, namely Global Training Solutions and Smartech Future, both under the destination of China; Grace Air under the destination of South Africa; and Livingston Aerospace; under the destination of the UK to the restrictions list.

“These entities are listed because of their links to the Test Flying Academy of South Africa (TFASA) and the training of China’s military forces using Western and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) sources,” US Department of Commerce official Matthew Axelrod said in a statement.

“Companies on the Entity List overseen by the US Commerce Department require licenses to ship US goods and technology to them are likely to be denied. Preventing American know-how from training PRC military pilots and US technology from aiding Russia enhances US national security,” Axelrod said.

For these six entities, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) imposed a license requirement for all items subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and will review license applications under a presumption of denial.

TFASA, which was added to the list in June last year pending the final notice, said it was one of many providers of aviation training services to China including companies based in the US, Canada, and Europe.

“These companies provide training to exactly the same standard to similar customers as TFASA, without facing the same unfair harassment from US government agencies,” it said in a statement.

It said over the past 10 years, nearly 70% of Chinese pilot cadets who received training internationally did so via the US.

It also said that over the period 2010 to 2021, the US trained and qualified over 14 000 Chinese pilots, adding that all Chinese pilot cadets trained by TFASA were drawn from and return to exactly the same talent pool as those trained by the US.

TFASA said that its targeting with punitive measures, but not larger US peers risked creating the perception that commercial bias might play a greater role in elements of decision-making than national security.

“TFASA has never deliberately sought to headhunt serving military personnel from Nato countries. The majority of its employees join the company from other civilian contractors,” it said.

Following legal challenges in the UK in last year, TFASA decided to end the employment of UK nationals.

“The US’s efforts to impair TFASA’s business operations have been ongoing since TFASA’s refusal to share information on its clients with the US State Department and other US government agencies when approached, and offered inducements to do so in 2013,” it said.

As a South African company registered with the South African National Conventional Arms Control Committee, and not reliant on US exports, TFASA said this restriction did not affect its day-to-day operations in any way.

Nevertheless, TFASA said it was disappointed that the US Department of Commerce took this step without consultation.

“TFASA has operated with the full knowledge of Nato defence and security agencies for over a decade,” it said.

Recent communications between the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Air Force Office of Special Investigation and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots indicate that TFASA has broken no laws, the company pointed out.