How SAF keeps costs down - Outsourcing Civilian flying instructors cut costs

A Fokker 50 Mk2S maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) from 121 Squadron, seen at Tengah Airbase on 1 September 2003 during the RSAF's 35th anniversary parade.

Singapore Technologies Aerospace has been providing this training since last September, using a C-90 turboprop plane it bought last year.

Previously, two Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) instructors put the transport pilots through their paces in a Fokker 50 turboprop aircraft also used for maritime patrol and transport.

Now, the RSAF pays by the hour for the training and the six-month course costs roughly half as much per pilot, said Major Leong Kum Wah, who heads the RSAF's flying training branch. Moreover, it frees the Fokker 50 for military use, he said.

The RSAF also bases its S211 jet trainers in Australia for basic pilot training. If these are replaced, the new aircraft may be financed privately.

To test newcomers' potential to be military pilots, the RSAF leases CT-4B propeller planes from BAE Systems Flight Training, a British company.

BAE provides the RSAF with four planes at any one time for the month-long air-grading course in Tamworth, Australia. It maintains the planes, which the Australian air force, army and navy also use.

This arrangement in Tamworth saves the RSAF $7 million a year it would have spent on the fleet of 20 propeller Marchetti SF260s it ran and maintained before for this purpose. This includes all the costs involved in basing personnel in Australia and sending people there, said Maj Leong.

BAE's three-year contract, awarded in 1999, has since been renewed for seven years.

The 10 instructors who screen the wannabe pilots are RSAF personnel because they know best what the RSAF looks for in military pilots, said Maj Leong.

'It's not just flying skill but also whether they have leadership, officer qualities,' he said. 


Early 1970s: The SAF contracts out heavy maintenance work at depots to Samco, the predecessor of Singapore Technologies Engineering (ST Engineering). Samco takes over the overhaul of aircraft and three-tonne trucks.

1980s: A manpower crunch leads to more outsourcing of logistics functions. Private sector contractors, which are seen as more efficient, take over the management of supply bases, component repairs and frontline maintenance support.

Early 1990s: The SAF moves to 'long-term and mutually beneficial' contracts with increasing dependence on outsiders, and away from contracts that prescribe everything a contractor must do.

Food caterers are given more general targets such as providing wholesome and nutritious meals, instead of being told what ingredients to use and how to stock rations. They are paid according to how well servicemen rate their food.

ST Engineering gets six-year contracts to maintain fighter aircraft, with an option to renew for another six years. Old practice was to offer two-year contracts with an option to extend by a year

This article was first published on April 23, 2004. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.