top of page

SA Airbus H125 Helps Protect East African Crops from Desert Locusts

Celebrated each year on 16 October, World Food Day commemorates the creation of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – which has led the international fight against hunger since 1945. The article below is one example of how Airbus and its products are supporting those in need.

The 2020-2021 desert locust crisis has been devastating due to favourable weather conditions, resulting in the destruction of East Africa’s crops and food resources. Combatting it requires 24/7 surveillance to spot the swarms of insects and their non-flying offspring in the act of devouring fields of grain and coffee.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is behind efforts to monitor and fight the locust outbreak and is drawing on numerous resources, including a trio of Airbus H125 rotorcraft operated by Savannah Helicopters – which won a tender in collaboration with Zemen Flying Services, a local Ethiopian operator, to conduct survey flights in Ethiopia to locate the insects.

Locust swarms in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya hitch a ride on eastern winds, moving across the region in numbers that reach 50 million per hectare. Covering several hectares, the locust threat to human food security is high.

Their coming can look like a pink smudge on the horizon as they quickly cover up to 200 km in a day. In 24 hours, they eat their own weight in grains like teff, millet and khat. When they take off again, they leave behind human starvation.

The H125s first had to be ferried from Savannah Helicopters’ base in South Africa. An early attempt was cancelled when the continent went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The locusts continued their advancement, and Savannah Helicopters made a second attempt across Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya, and eventually to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

As if a 22-hour flight wasn’t enough, the crews had to bed down in tents beside the helicopters at night to avoid quarantining at each stop – in compliance with COVID-19 protocols. After 10-day isolation on arrival, the crews were stationed at three bases in Ethiopia, where they encountered the locusts. “You see them clearly because they’re dense. One of our pilots flew around one of these swarms and they could calculate the area: it was 35,000 hectares. That’s enormous,” said Conrad Maree, Savannah Helicopters’ owner.

From April to June 2021, each helicopter flew 70 to 80 hours a month. Working with an FAO coordinator, Savannah’s teams went to remote areas where swarms go overlooked. Locals contributed to sightings, leading to investigations that sometimes required the H125s to land in sandy unprepared sites.

“The helicopters performed without any major snag and never disappointed,” said Maree. “There’s a lot of high and steep terrain. Historically, we’ve operated the Ecureuil in worse areas and they’ve never let us down.”

“We are very proud to see the H125 involved in the combat against the desert locust swarms in East Africa,” said Gilbert Do Nascimento, Airbus South Africa Managing Director. “The H125 is a versatile platform capable of conducting a broad array of missions for the benefit of local populations, especially in Africa. We are standing by Savannah’s side making sure they receive the necessary support to conduct their vital missions.”

The H125 has earned its reputation as a true multi-mission workhorse, with built-in manoeuvrability, excellent visibility, and low vibration levels in the cabin



bottom of page