Why the Ethiopian Air Force is 'going spare'
Ethiopia's air force has turned northwards – far northwards – in its efforts to keep some members of its elderly transport and training fleet airworthy.
The authorities in Addis Ababa have contracted Lithuanian maintenance specialist, FL Technics, to provide a spares supply for several of the Soviet-era types in the Ethiopian Air Force inventory: the Antonov An-12 medium transport, Antonov An-32 tactical transport and the Czech-built Aero L-39ZO Albatros advanced jet trainer.
The air force, Ye Ithopya Ayer Hayl in the English translation of the nation’s Amharic language, has suffered long-term decline, with only small numbers of aircraft still operational in what used to be one of Africa’s most powerful air arms.
Accurate estimates of the number of serviceable aircraft are difficult to come by. Some sources say as many as nine of the 1960s-vintage, four-turboprop An-12s are on strength, which would make them by far the most significant component of the force’s transport fleet. However, African Aerospace reported last year that as few as two may still be operational. The other main transport type is the Lockheed C-130. According to Flight International’s annual review of world air forces in 2015, two examples may still be usable, a single C-130E donated by the US in 2014 and an even more elderly B model.
The transport fleet has seen recent service employed on sorties as part of peacekeeping efforts in Sudan and South Sudan.
The force is believed to have a single example of the An-32, whose oversized ZMKB Progress AI-20D turboprops provide sufficient power to cope with Ethiopia’s hot-and-high conditions, as well as a handful of airworthy L-39ZOs, which can be used both as advanced trainers and for initial weapons training.
The new contract is the first Ethiopian order for FL Technics’ military aircraft division, which has only recently been granted approved supplier status by the African nation’s defence ministry. An initial batch of spares had already been delivered by the time the contract was formally announced in mid-March and the remainder of the contract was due to be completed by late spring.
“We greatly value our cooperation with the Ethiopian Air Force and hope that the successful execution of this contract will help us win the trust of the Ethiopian Ministry of Defence in future tenders,” commented FL Technics CEO Zilvinas Lapinaskas. “We also anticipate that this tender will facilitate our communication with other military, as well as governmental aircraft operators, across Africa and the Middle East.”
An FL Technics spokesman said the company would be providing “a wide range” of spares to Ethiopia, but that it was barred by the terms of the contract from going into details on the type of items to be supplied. A confidentiality clause also means that the company is forbidden from releasing any technical information relating to the current condition of the aircraft.
The last An-12 came off the Antonov production line in 1973, meaning even the youngest examples of the type are well into their fifth decade of service. The type has long been phased out from most air forces, although it remains in service with more than a dozen nations – mainly in Africa and Central Asia – and civilian versions are still popular as a freighter in Africa, due to the type’s rugged design.
The slowly shrinking fleet means that spares are not as easy to come by as they used to be. But the former Soviet Union produced components in such quantity that they remain available if you know where to look.
“It’s a challenging task, no doubt. And not every vendor can ensure timely supply of required parts,” said the FL Technics spokesman. “Luckily, we maintain a vast network of partners, particularly in the CIS region, which allows us to locate and deliver the spares swiftly.”
FL Technics will not be positioning personnel to Ethiopia to help maintain the aircraft, although it says it can dispatch staff to assist if required.