Ag Aviation Africa 2022 Conference – Bona Bona Game Lodge
Air Tractor makes agribusiness sense, and this was on full display with some of the best farmers and operators in Africa celebrating their adoption of the aerial application technology with Ag Aviation Africa and the larger community.
Following the high-paced post-pandemic rush of 2022, which displayed the resilience of the Agricultural Aviation Industry and hinted toward a yearning for a return to normal, this year’s Ag Aviation Africa conference was no different. A jam-packed three-day aerial application event that saw customers, clients, and service providers making the annual pilgrimage to Bona Bona Game Lodge proved this case and point.
On Sunday 18th September, the AAA team welcomed a number of international guests, who arrived the day before the conference was due to start, and had the opportunity to settle in and soak up the beauty and tranquility of the African bush. That evening, guests enjoyed sunset drinks and dinner at Bona Bona’s main restaurant, overlooking a watering hole, which is home to a resident hippo and her calf. Guests were also lucky enough to catch sightings of rhinos, giraffes, and antelope grazing in the evening light.
The conference officially commenced on Monday 19th September, and kicked off early that morning with a calibration clinic conducted by world-renowned industry expert Alan Corr and his wife Gwen. The August winds were later than usual this year, threatening to wreak havoc on the day’s calibration test plans. A steady 20-knot wind, fortunately, did not deter some of the pilots due for calibrations on the first day. Test runs were, however, not possible as the wind component, well above the calibration maximum of 15kts, was relentless. The flying would have to wait; Tuesday’s forecast promised better conditions for the pilots and calibration team.
Over in Bona Bona’s Olifant conference venue, guests were treated to multiple workshops on Pratt & Whitney products, industry trends, developments, challenges, and more. Francis Marotte, Customer Engineer from Pratt & Whitney Canada, led the day’s workshops with highly technical knowledge and invaluable insights for engineers, pilots, and operators. He provided practical information on general use, maintenance, best practices, and TBO extension programs available for owners looking to extend their engine life and reduce the costs of owning one of these industry-leading engines.
- Francis Marotte – Pratt & Whitney
In between the day’s workshops, conference guests were able to visit various exhibition stands, which afforded service providers and sponsors the opportunity to network with potential clients and promote their unique products and services. Sponsors included, Pratt & Whitney, Ag Pilot X, Vektor Aviation, TWL Logistics, PilotInsure, Flying Eyes, Investec, Standard Aero, Pratt & Whitney, Air Tractor Inc, AG4, Ag Aviation Africa, and Ag Aviation Flight Academy.
After a full day of learning, networking, and reconnecting, the conference guests made their way to the hangar, where one of the beautiful AT502 XPs was displayed. Bottom lit, with the blood red African sun setting behind the horizon, this was truly a spectacular sight to behold. Bonfire beers, brandy, or Six Dogs gin concoctions, if you prefer, were all generously sponsored by Anthony Fay and his team from AgPilotX.
The guests’ smiles, laughs, excitement, and chatter was hard to ignore. This was soon to be silenced by Agri-spray Consultants’ founder Alan Corr, who delivered another highly informative presentation. With decades of industry experience, it’s clear why Alan and Gwen are the industry leaders in this space.
- Alan Corr – Agrispray Consulting
After a classic South African Braai, more entertainment ensued with a fun quiz hosted by PilotInsure’s David Le Roux and Frans Smit. The coveted prize, a R4000.00 pair of Pilot Eyes sunglasses, was hotly contested between pilot and engineer and ultimately won by the naturally wiser of these two professionals. Of course, celebrations were not limited to just one clever pilot. The entire conference delegation enjoyed the festivities late into the night – not even Eskom’s relentless rolling blackouts could put a stop to the fun!
David Le Roux (PilotInsure), Brent Oosthuizen (ALS), Franz Smit (PilotInsure) and Lehan Viljoen (Flying Eyes)
On Tuesday 20th September a select few were up at dawn to capture spectacular sunrise footage. The production company, Man Makes A Picture, was on site all week to capture unique content, conduct interviews, and document the event. Hennie Viviers, the happily willing demo pilot, gave those who were there a show to remember.
Not soon after the low-level turbine trumpeting display, the rest of the pilots began pre-flighting their aircraft, eager to get airborne and test the efficacy and accuracy of their equipment. With Agri-Spray’s extremely accurate instrumentation, there was sure to be nowhere to hide. Pilots being highly competitive (Ag Pilots amongst the most) resulted in an electric feeling of excitement in the air.
Alongside the calibrations, B2B meetings were taking place with key industry leaders, including Casper Botha (Castello Farming), Robert Coleman (Dangote), and Arno Joubert and Gaffie Deale (ALS VS Lugbespuiting) amongst others, being afforded the opportunity to connect, share ideas, and address any concerns. With Air Tractor factory representatives, Jeff Dobbs and Anthonie York present from the United States, there was little to no hesitation in making the most of this exceptional occasion.
The final day of workshops included a presentation by Anthony Fay of Insero Solutions, who discussed the Ag Pilot X product. He explained the simplicity of its operation and its compatibility with any aircraft. A plug-and-play system that integrates aerial navigation and application tracing on an iPad – AgPilot X is destined to be a game changer in the years to come.
Franz Smit, of PilotInsure, spoke to loss of license cover and other products aimed at eliminating potential risks in a high-risk environment.
David Minty from Investec touched on aircraft financing options specifically catered and individually designed for each client. Offering longer terms, flexible structuring, and committed service over lifelong relationships.
- David Minty – Investec
In concluding the workshops, the AAA team, led by CEO Matt Kritzinger and COO Graham Wells, left an inspirational message on their commitment to a grand vision of accelerating the adoption of aerial application throughout Africa, providing technological solutions to a hunger crisis on the African Continent.
- Graham Wells – AG Aviation Africa * Matt Kritzinger – AG Aviation Africa
Ted Whitton, of AG4, exhibited the extent of this technological progress with a fully integrated e-commerce platform walk-through and demonstrations on the potential for VR applications in the training field.
- Ted Whitton – AG4
DFE Charlie Marais gave an inspirational talk on the current state of industry training and development. He pointed to pertinent stats on accidents and incidents in South African Aerial Application. The data suggests we are facing a significant lack in training new, low-time recruits and a lack of recurrent procedural training for the highly experienced, high-time pilots. An exciting talk that hopefully motivated the need for more collaboration and less competition among the pilots of this highly specialised sector.
Further information regarding Ag Aviation Flight Academy (AAFA) was also shared. AAFA is an aerial application school for aspiring and existing Air Tractor pilots. Focusing on Ag and firefighting, AAFA has invested in Africa’s first Air Tractor, a complete replica Flight simulator (Currently used to improve insurance premiums for operators and to conduct renewal training for existing pilots). Once fully approved, AAFA will offer an alternative option to the costly European or American annual renewals.
- Charlie Marais – AAFA
After two full days of workshops, all were eager for the formation fly-by and firebombing display. World-class pilot, Johnie Smith, led the six-ship formation in his immaculate C180. An additional five Air Tractors flown by pilots Hennie and Steve Viviers, Berno Du Preez, Brent Oosthuizen, and Lukas Genis provided the cherry on the cake. They delivered an exciting and extraordinary show for all in the stands. The pink dye, remnants of the spray calibrations conducted during the day, seemed to enhance the already striking visuals of low-flying aircraft with roaring turbine formation.
On Tuesday night the conference was officially bought to a close with a gala dinner. Guest we treated to a buffet-style dinner, accompanied by a superb live performance from the highly entertaining, Shandor Potgieter. Air Tractor Representatives, Jeff Dobbs and Anthonie York, presented on behalf of ATI, sharing prevailing trends and challenges such as an ever-increasing demand for these machines.
They also shed light on the significant role the current international geopolitical situation plays on global supply chain issues and, in addition, discussed pertinent Service Bulletins and specific findings relating to owners’ and operators’ experiences.
- Anthonie York (Air Tractor), Graham Wells and Matt Kritzinger (AG Aviation Africa) and Jeff Dobbs (Air Tractor)
The feedback from conference attendees was extremely positive, and it was clear that this year’s event had proved to be a resounding success. As Ag Aviation Africa progresses from strength to strength, it intends to push our industry forward. We are reaching beyond the realm of just aerial application and working towards improving the lives of every participant in feeding the hungry – everyone from farm to fork.