By Garth Calitz
AG aviation could not have picked a better venue to host the 2021 AG Aviation – Air Tractor conference, Bona Bona Game Lodge is nestled in the heart of the African Bushveld between Klerksdorp and Wolmaransstad and sports a 1300 meters long and 11.2 meters wide runway (17/35), perfect for those who decided to fly in for the conference.
The delegates arrived on Monday 6 September and were welcomed by the friendly Bona Bona staff and a delegation from AG Aviation Africa. Once all the guests were settled in their rooms it was time to attend the official conference opening at the airfield. Ag Aviation Africa had invited some of their clients to come and show off their wonderful new acquisitions, two clients enthusiastically obliged and all present were treated to a magnificent sunset water bombing and spraying display by two Air Tractor 502XP’s.
Matt Kritzinger, Managing Director and Graham Wells, Chief Operating Officer of AG Aviation Africa welcomed all the delegates and gave a brief outline of what could be expected for the rest of the conference. Once all the introductions were made it was time for some socializing, old friends meeting up after not seeing one another for a while and of course, meeting new people in the same industry.
As the light started to fade everyone made their way to the dinner venue where the first speaker would take to the podium, Mr Omri van Zyl the CEO of Agri Enterprises. Omri unearthed some really interesting facts about the state of agriculture in Africa, sadly the picture he painted was not a very good one. Africa possesses roughly 67% of all the arable land in the world but contributes a minuscule 1% of the global agricultural production. Africa has great potential but as Omri made abundantly clear “no one can eat potential”. It was not all doom and gloom though as South Africa is definitely acting on some of that potential and has become the largest citrus supplier in the world. This proves that agriculture, with the right management, has a very bright future on our wonderful continent this, in turn, translates to a wonderful future for agricultural aviation.
After a significant amount of “socializing” everyone moved off to their rooms for a good nights sleep, some way earlier than others.
Tuesday morning started off with a scrumptious breakfast served on the deck overlooking two of the watering holes on the vast Bona Bona game farm. A herd of rare Ankole cattle could be seen wandering around the area.
After breakfast, the conference got underway in all seriousness, with a very successful workshop hosted by Pratt and Whitney. Kaval Shah, Regional Sales Manager for Sub-Sahara Africa was joined by Roberto Galant, Field Service manager for east and southern Africa and Herman Straten Field Service Manager for Southern and Western Africa. The interaction with the operators was encouraging to see many ideas were thrown around on how Pratt and Whitney can improve their offering to the agricultural aviation sector. The full range of Air Tractors is fitted with Pratt and Whitney power-plants raging from the AT-402B, delivering 680 shaft HP to the mighty AT-802A pumping out a staggering 1295 shaft HP.
The workshop continued until lunch, which was once again served on the deck, this time three White Rhinos and a small herd of Kudu Bulls decided to grace us with their presence. A rare Sable Antelope could be seen grazing in the distance, the wildlife at Bona Bona definitely didn’t disappoint.
After lunch, it was back to the “Renoster” conference room for the balance of the speakers. Dr Peter Johnston a Climate Impacts Researcher from the University of Cape Town, painted an alarming picture of where we could find ourselves in the agricultural sector if urgent intervention is not implemented as soon as possible. His brilliant insight was by no means the total apocalypse scenario sketched out by the mainstream media, but there were however warnings for the agricultural sector as we navigate the unpredictable world of climate change.
Matt and Graham took to the floor and laid out their plans for AG Aviation Africa, this included their vision to standardise the operation of Air Tractors throughout Africa, whether it be for crop maximization, vector control (as with the current locust problem in North Africa) or fire control. AG Aviation is in the process of setting up a Training Academy in Stellenbosch that will further assist operators to standardise the industry on a training level, a full Air Tractor procedural simulator will be arriving in the coming weeks to complement this. Operators of Air Tractors throughout Africa stand to benefit greatly from the forward-thinking of the AG Aviation Africa team.
As we are all aware we are currently steaming headstrong into the fourth Industrial Revolution and AG Aviation Africa are in no way being left behind. Mr Edward Whitton has taken on the challenge of creating a comprehensive mobile Application to manage every aspect of the Air Tractor operation aptly named AG4. Edward has successfully created a similar application for the management of Toyota services in Saudi Arabia which is the largest Toyota market in the world. The app will pre-empt what parts and services will be needed in the future, based on the operator's specific conditions and operation frequency. The app will have the ability to inform the factory what parts will be needed in future, greatly limiting downtime due to parts availability. AG4 will create maintenance scheduled and assist in the management process of their entire Air Tractor fleet.
Speaking about that topic that no one wants to talk about, Insurance was Scott Smith from Lloyds Aviation brokerage, Scott has a wealth of knowledge and currently heads up the Aviation Department of Lloyds broker in London concentrating on South Africa, Africa, Mexico, Eastern European and Central Asian business. Scott highlighted the daily battles he wages with the insurance industry in an attempt to get them to understand that AG aircraft are essential services for the sustainability of the human race and should be treated uniquely whether they are performing crop spraying, vector control or fighting fires duties.
The Final speaker Dr Anthon Botha, a physicist, strategist and future thinker, took us on a journey into the future of crop spraying and other aerial technologies supported by the Air Tractor platform. Although, Anthon believes the future can not be predicted he explained how stakeholders can influence the future for the collective businesses by creating models of future landscapes and using mind-time travel to generate a preferred space in that future. “The digital world of the 4th Industrial Revolution will be brought to us by embracing data, building digital twins to create a ubiquitous companion for support, and to ensure that cyber and physical aspects get held close together as humans and machines co-work in intelligent environments. This digitalisation drive-by AG Aviation Africa will further build the AG community, introducing their culture of market support and extend existing trust. The future has arrived and jointly everyone should enter it with an excitement that will shape all our tomorrows” Anthon concluded.
The delegates then made their way to the airfield where they were once again treated to a sunset display flown by veteran AG pilot Hennie Viviers in a stunning AT-502XP. Sundowners were then served before the crowd moved to the dinner venue for a wonderful meal and an evening of entertainment, supplied by Shandor Potgieter and of course camaraderie with fellow members of the AG aviation community. The dinner officially sounded the end of the conference and all the delegates departed on Wednesday morning after another wonderful breakfast.
Special thanks must go to Elsabé Carstens and her team for the brilliant conference they managed to deliver. It's not often all the speakers at a conference have a common thread running through their respective speeches. According to all of them the future of AG Aviation, although facing challenges is on a good footing.