THE mid-1970s a then new South African-based aviation magazine, World Airnews, identified the need for an aerospace exhibition in the country as against the “barn-storming” type of air shows which were then being staged which did not cover all aspects of the growing industry.

After several months of investigation into the viability of such an exhibition, World Airnews decided to launch the first in what was to become a biennial series of aviation expos in 1975. Dubbed “Aviation Africa”, the first of its kind ever to be staged in South Africa, let alone the whole continent, it attracted a surprising amount of international interest, considering the many embargoes which existed against South Africa at the time.

The success of the first show which was held at the new Lanseria Airport, convinced the World Airnews husband-and-wife team of Tom and Joan Chalmers to repeat the show in 1977, but this time they took on a professional show-organising company, Johannesburg-based Showplan, to assist them with the organisation. Again, the 1977 show proved successful with a reasonable amount of international participation, mainly in the civil aviation sector.

The first in the series of aviation exhibitions, which later became known as Aviation Africa and now Africa Aerospace & Defence, took place at Lanseria Airport in October 1975. The event was initiated by THE COMMERCIAL AVIATION ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHERN AFRICA NPC CAASA) and World Airnews and held at the very new Lanseria Airport north of Johannesburg. Based on the Farnborough Airshow, the event offered companies the opportunity to exhibitor in the indoor exhibition area, book hospitality chalets and display their aircraft in the static aircraft park and on the public days offered members of the general public the opportunity to view an international airshow.

From this first event, CAASA utilised this venue for their biennial aviation trade exhibition in 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983, until the exhibition was moved to Rand Airport in Johannesburg to coincide with the Johannesburg and Germiston Centenary Celebrations in March 1986.

International participation in the event declined as a result of the sanctions the rest of the world had instigated against South Africa, and there were very few South African companies who had developed the capabilities to replace this equipment. It was only with the confirmation of the Airbus Industries booking that the exhibition managed to continue, CAASA Board were meeting to decide whether to continue with the event when the telex arrived from France, it went right down to the wire. CAASA were very proud to be able to claim an attendance of over 10 000 at the 1986 event, with over 60% of this being trade visitors!

South Africa was now moving more and more towards self-sufficiency in repair, overhaul and even production, opening new markets for specialised equipment and technology. The exhibition, now renamed Aviation Africa International, continued to grow and remained at Rand Airport, the historical home of southern Africa’s general aviation, for the 1988 event, when indoor space was extended to 1 058m2.

In 1990 Aviation Africa International was to open it gates for the 8th time, having grown its attendance to 30 000 with 6 000 of these being trade visitors. With the announcements by former President FW de Klerk of the un-banning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990, international interest in the show suddenly increased. In the two months before the event opened in April the exhibition grew by 25%. AA now had over 70 exhibitors, and utilised 3 000m2 of indoor space, which was not available at Rand Airport. We needed a new venue.

After a long search, South African Airways agreed that we could utilise hangars within the SAA Technical Area, there were no larger hangars available. For 1992 the exhibition was moved to Jan Smuts (now Johannesburg International) Airport, and attracted more than 100 exhibitors and in excess of 11 000 industry visitors. For the first time the exhibition attracted large international companies such as Boeing, Airbus, British Aerospace, GIFAS to name a few, the event had returned to being truly international and was recognised as the premier event of its kind on the African continent. Being within the technical area brought with it many restrictions and it was initially thought that we would not be able to hold an airshow, but we were able to convince the air traffic controllers and the airshow attracted over 20 000 visitors.

In 1994 and 1996 the exhibition remained within the SAA Technical Area and continued its growth. However, with the increase in air traffic at the airport it was no longer feasible to host an airshow. Although South Africa was going through the transition to democracy, the exhibition continued to attract a large amount of interest from both the local and international community. Visitors came from sub-Saharan Africa – Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Reunion, Swaziland, Zaire, Zambia and Zimbabwe and of these 58% were company executives, 11% pilots, 18% engineers and the balance were buyers.

The 1994 event was held one week before the first democratic election in South Africa. As a result of the political situation in the country, understandably a number of international exhibitors decided to cancel their participation, but the event went off without any problems, and it was with a sigh of relief that the organising team were able to close the event and bid goodbye to all exhibitors and visitors without any incidents.

The South African Air Force celebrated its 75th Anniversary by organising an international air tattoo and exhibition at AFB Waterkloof. The exhibition attracted a number of international and local exhibitors and the airshow was truly international attracting Air Forces from many countries around the world, assisting in celebrating South Africa’s return to the international community.

The last Aviation Africa International was held in 1996 and was the first event since 1983 to display both civil and military hardware without restrictions. The United Nations weapons embargo on South Africa had been lifted and this attracted many exhibitors not seen at this exhibition before. Even while the embargo was in place, 18% of visitors have said that they were from the military in addition many visitors who had been unable to buy from South Africa.

In 1998 the two trade associations “CAASA and AMD” joined in organising Aerospace Africa. As was said at the time, since the first Aviation Africa in 1975, the exhibition has undergone many changes, from a local aero-display and trade show, operating from a small airport 22 years ago, Aviation Africa, under the auspices of CAASA, has grown to a fully recognised international aerospace exhibition catering for all of the sub-Saharan aviation and aerospace requirements. After the South African Aerospace, Maritime and Defence related Industries Association’s (AMD) success in organising SAAF “75 Expo, as part of the South African Air Force’s 75th anniversary celebrations in 1995, there was a growing request for further military trade exhibits and an airshow. A joint venture between CAASA and AMD was therefore a natural progression.”

The name changed to Aerospace Africa, the venue to AFB Waterkloof and the amalgamation with AMD incorporated a greater military influence. This grew the number of exhibitors to 254 representing 21 countries.

More changes were on the way as a major event in the new millennium the biennial DEXSA (Defence Exhibition of South Africa) (also see DEXSA history) and Aerospace Africa combined into Africa Aerospace & Defence, jointly hosted and presented by Armscor, AMD and CAASA, it was the most comprehensive civil and military aerospace and defence-related show ever held on the African continent. The South African Air Force, the second oldest air force in the world, celebrated its 80th anniversary with an Air Tattoo.

Africa Aerospace & Defence has continued to grow and the 2004 event attracted over 428 exhibitors, which were made up of 194 direct exhibitors and 234 indirect exhibitors. These exhibitors came from 25 countries, including South Africa. Of these countries, 8 were represented by National Pavilions. Countries were: Belgium, Belarus, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, Malaysia, Namibia, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America and South Africa.

A total of 52 delegations representing 37 countries visited the event. They were from : Algeria, Angola, Belarus, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Chile, Cote D’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Gabon, India, Jordan, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Mozambique, Nambia, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Peoples Republic China, Russia, Rwanda, Singapore, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Africa Aerospace & Defence (AAD2006) has truly come of age. The first time AAD was held AFB Ysterplaat in Cape Town, 20-24 September 2006 over 22 000 people registered for the exhibition on the three trade days, with 120 000 visiting on the 2 public days

Building on the success of previous exhibitions, AAD held at AFB Ysterplaat in Cape Town , 17-21 September 2008 (AAD2008) was set to attract significant numbers of participants. Almost 80 officially invited foreign delegations attended AAD2008, including 20 defence ministers, many from African countries. Some 13000 trade visitors provided the 400 exhibitors from 35 countries with the opportunity to market their products to the African continent.

Having sold out months before opening day (AAD ,21 -25 September 2010 ) 2010 bid Ysterplaat farewell on a high attracting 350 direct exhibitors, 150 indirect exhibitors from 31 countries around the world, 13 000 trade visitors flocked to the show during the first three days, with a record number of 80 000 plus public attending on the two public days. 77 participating aircraft (civil and military planes), with 61 high-level delegations of which were on ministerial and chief of defence or chiefs of services level from 16 countries

City of Tshwane saw the return of AAD2012 at AFB Waterkloof from 19 to 21 September 2012, trade and static displays attracted more than 40,000 trade visitors from 28 countries, 120 visiting delegations, 84 aircraft and over 92 983 members of the public.

The exhibition was officially opened on the 19th September 2012 by the Minister of Defence, the honourable Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, where military veterans and 347 exhibitors were addressed.

The 9th AAD will take place at AFB Waterkloof, Centurion, City of Tshwane, South Africa from 14 to 18 September 2016, and will once again bring together various industries from throughout the world so as to showcase the latest technological innovations