Cape Town. 091211. Aircraft displaying their acrobatic skills that formed part of the Wings and Wheels show at Ysterplaat Airforce base. Picture Leon Lestrade

Cape Town - A furious row has erupted over the South African Air Force’s decision to pull the plug on Cape Town’s Wings and Wheels Air Show, with the local aviation fraternity claiming political interference as the root cause.

The air force announced on Wednesday that the air show, which was set to take place at the Ysterplaat Air Force Base next weekend, had been cancelled and since then, the aviation website, Avcom, has been abuzz with many calling the air show saga a “knee-jerk reaction after the Guptagate” fallout.

But the air force defended the move on Wednesday, claiming safety concerns and procedures as the main culprit.

“The compliance to pertinent security measures and planned arrangements that are underpinned by approved regulatory policies and standard operating procedures is indispensable for staging such a major activity on the Air Force Base,” it said.

Major-General Wiseman Mbambo, the General Officer Commanding Air Command, said that after a due diligence review of the arrangements for the show, and several attempts at corrective action, the air force command found it “difficult to reconcile the planned show with the air force’s vision and strategic outcomes”.

He said in line with government initiatives, the air force earlier this year instituted austerity measures, which included the scaling down of air shows.

But sources close to the event organisers said they were not buying it.

One exhibitor, who did not want to be named, said event organisers had obtained prior permission from the police who had earlier approved the safety and security plans for the event.

Others claimed that, up until a week ago, air force headquarters were still on board despite minor changes being suggested. “This just does not make any sense, and it appears as if politics are at play,” he said.

Speaking (unofficially) on behalf of aviators and organisations, the managing director of Sky Messaging, Thomas Kritzer, said it was unfortunate the show has been cancelled with such little notice being given.

“A lot of companies, organisations and other participants had made plans to partake at the event, dedicating time and resources, such as the hiring of staff and equipment. In addition, cancelling such an event could be seen as a nail in the coffin for general aviation, which needs to be brought further into contact with the general public,” he added.

Kritzer said if the rumour mill about political interference was true, then the cancellation of the show was indeed a great pity.

“If it is true that political meddling is the root cause of the cancellation, the motives behind this are questionable and should be investigated. Politics and aviation have historically never fared well together. Politics and ulterior motives should never mingle with general aviation,” he said.

Patrick Davidson, a pilot from Port Elizabeth, who was set to bring his nearly 70-year-old P-51 Mustang fighter, which saw service during World War II, said he would likely never take part in the event again.

“It would have been the first time since World War II that a P-51 Mustang had flown in Cape Town or the Western Cape. My aircraft burns about 200 litres of avgas (aviation fuel) an hour, so cancelling the event is a massive bugger-up.”

The Western Cape government also entered the fray, saying it was concerned about the allegations regarding the cancellation.

Finance, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde said the air show was one of the province’s premier family days. “We are highly concerned about the allegations regarding the cancellation of this event and will be looking into it.”

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Cape Argus