Kit builders fly high

THERE are at least two unlikely industries, based in Cape Town, that have achieved export success and worldwide recognition for quality and value for money.

One is luxury yacht building and the other… is in experimental and leisure aircraft.

Robin Coss established Robin Coss Aviation (RCA) over 20 years ago, spotting a niche in the home or kit building of leisure aircraft which was ‘taking off’ following the availability of aircraft kits from manufacturers in the USA such as Van’s Aircraft who have perfected the home build model of recreational aircraft.

Where’s the niche?

Robin Coss explains: “There are plenty of aviation enthusiasts who dream of owning / flying their own aircraft. However, certified aircraft are usually beyond the means of the average enthusiast.

“Our civil aviation regulations allow for an experimental sector – the kit building market – where perfectly sound, approved designs, construction techniques and materials can be purchased for assembly at home in one’s garage.

“Perfect, if you have the time, space, skills and inclination for ‘home’ construction. Our niche is in providing a fully equipped workshop with expert mechanics and technicians for those enthusiasts who don’t have the space, the skills or who’s enthusiasm has waned, and want ‘someone’ to build, maintain and in some cases repair or upgrade their pride and joy”.

RCA’s business was built on this premise and has expanded into general aviation maintenance and repairs and the installation of a large capacity spray both allows the repainting of RV and similar sized aircraft and helicopters.

Co-director Damon van Niekerk takes up the story: “The variety and affordability of the Van ready to assemble kits in a selection of single, two and four seater designs and engine configurations stimulated the popularity of the leisure market as an affordable way to go flying. An enthusiast can start with a basic configuration and as time and funds permit, add on to the level of avionic sophistication, comfort and interior trim.

“These options opened other avenues for us, establishing relationships with international suppliers of advanced navigation, GPS and communications equipment. With these relationships went personnel training courses enabling our business to offer customers the latest sophisticated equipment at a level they desired or could afford.

“Requests for superior interior finishes, sound deadening and comfort led us to develop our own custom interiors and finishes for our range of RV aircraft. Our highly skilled painting department have produced some amazing paint schemes on our RV aircraft and we have expanded our approvals be able to offer this  service to third party clients including those with certified aircraft and helicopters” he explained.

A feather in RCA’s cap was when the owner of Van’s Aircraft paid them an unexpected visit and was suitably impressed with not only their facilities but build quality, saying that it matched and exceeded the levels of fit and finish found amongst American builders.

RCA’s expertise started spreading beyond our borders and today they have clients in all the neighbouring states – Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and further north, but not just with recreational flying enthusiasts, but with businesses such as mines, field service and construction companies where personnel have to cover long distances to remote sites and road travel isn’t a feasible option. The cost benefits of Van’s products compared to certified aircraft, their straight forward simple rugged design, coupled with RCA service back-up, has made them a winner with business operations throughout the region.

The latest export success has been to an Australian client whose new RV10 four seater aircraft was delivered to him during the Covid pandemic. This aircraft has recently been joined by one of RCA’s RV8 aircraft belonging to an ex-pat South African who decided to take his RV with him.

Bursting at the seams

As one might imagine, this growing business has placed space constraints on the company’s facilities at Cape Town International Airport (CTIA), which now support 20 highly trained mechanics and technicians, especially as more and more customers return their aircraft when servicing becomes due, which often means ferrying planes to Cape Town from different parts of the country.

“Being located at CTIA and being subject to strict air movement regulations can have its disadvantages which led us to investigate relocating to a more attractive site, but some of the region’s existing airfields were ruled out – such as Delta and Morningstar which have issues of their own” said Coss.

“We have identified a completely new site and are in advanced negotiations with the land owner, having completed and submitted development plans and an EIA to Council. Located adjacent to the N7 highway between the Philadelphia and Klein Dassonberg exits, the site would include an 800 metre long runway and virtually unlimited space for hangars, clubs and similar support businesses. We are discussing investment opportunities with various interested parties to establish a West Coast flight centre there which would provide long term security for businesses like ours and flying clubs that are presently threatened with closure” he said.

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