Swelling government coffers and rising prosperity in several sub-Saharan African countries should help make this year's Africa Aerospace & Defence (AAD) the biggest yet.
We have concentrated on surrounding countries first, then the rest of Africa"
Countries from Angola to Zambia, Nigeria to Botswana are investing in airborne and other homeland security assets, while a growing business elite is fuelling demand for air travel, including private jets. Over the next decade, Africa is expected to be one of the fastest growing aviation markets, albeit from a low base.
The biennial AAD - a merger of several smaller exhibitions - came together in the dying years of the apartheid era in 1990, but today is a key forum for manufacturers from South Africa and overseas to market their products and services to military chiefs and aviation professionals from the region. This year's event - from 19-23 September at the Waterkloof air force base outside Pretoria - is a sell-out, according to Leon Dillman, chief executive of the Commercial Aviation Association of Southern Africa, which runs AAD.
There is 30% more indoor exhibition space than two years ago, while the static display is bigger by about four fifths, he maintains. Forty-six chalets have been sold, compared with 28 last time. The seven hangars of exhibitors include pavilions from some of South Africa's main allies and trading partners, including China, Russia, Turkey and India, as well as established players from Europe and the USA such as Boeing, Saab, Finmeccanica, Thales and BAE Systems. "We have 68 companies on the wait list. Every single spot we have available is filled with aircraft," says Dillman.
Dignitaries from the region should provide the high-calibre visitors exhibitors relish. "We have invited 130 foreign delegations - ministers of defence, service chiefs - and we expect around 90. We have concentrated on surrounding countries first, then the rest of Africa and then major partner countries," he says. Civil aviation also plays an increasingly large role at the event, with business and general aviation operators and service providers - including Absolute Aviation, ExecuJet, Interjet, NAS and Pilatus Centre, distributor of the Swiss-made turboprop, all in attendance.
Aircraft on show will include the Boeing 787 - its first appearance in southern Africa, although Ethiopian Airlines will shortly be flying the type on routes within the continent - as well as the full range of Embraer civil aircraft. "We are also hoping for a large Russian aircraft and some US jets too, although you can never be sure with the US military," says Dillman. However, a notable absentee will be the A400M, despite the fact that Airbus Military is still hoping to sell the military transporter to South Africa three years after Pretoria cancelled an order for eight.
As well as the three trade days, AAD includes two public days, which Dillman says are important both to show ordinary South Africans what the industry is capable of and to enthuse the next generation of pilots, engineers and aviation professionals.