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SAA Technical to maintain presidential VVIP jet

A Falcon VIP jet of the SAAF.Armscor is about to place an order with SAA Technical for the maintenance of the Presidential VVIP Boeing Business Jet, according to defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. This comes as President Cyril Ramaphosa has criticised the minister for having to fly on chartered aircraft.

Mapisa-Nqakula on 7 March said in parliament that Armscor received a user requirement from the South African Air Force (SAAF) in December 2017 for the C-check inspection of the VVIP fleet’s Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) ‘Inkwazi’. “Armscor has completed the tender process and is about to place an order with SAA Technical Ltd. Negotiations will ensue shortly to finalise the terms of the contract,” the minister said.

She noted that the BBJ was involved in a number of mechanical incidents in 2015 and 2016 in Moscow, Burundi, and Qatar, “which led to a decision based on aviation safety considerations to stop using the aircraft for official purposes as a precautionary measure to mitigate risk.”

This resulted in the SAAF leasing aircraft for the President. The Sunday Times yesterday reported that Ramaphosa expressed unhappiness about having to fly in private jets after travelling to Botswana in an aircraft owned by controversial businessman Zunaid Moti.

Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman, Khusela Diko, told the Sunday Times that “the president has expressed his displeasure with the privately owned aircraft leased in execution of duties as head of state,” and expressed concern over the cost of chartered aircraft. “Also, the president said that when he travels for official duty there must be the flying of the South African flag, and that can only be done on SANDF [South African National Defence Force] planes,” she said.

In Parliament earlier this month, the opposition Democratic Alliance’s Sarel Marais said that neither the president, deputy or defence minister has used Inkwazi since August 2016, and it has not been flown since August 2017. “In addition to that, the Falcon 900 has also not been flown since September 2017. It has since been reported that between December 2017 and February 2018 alone, between R20 million and R30 million was appropriated and used to charter private aircraft”.

Mapisa-Nqakula confirmed that the Falcon 900 and Falcon 50 have not been used, and said the reason was because the SAAF is busy creating local capacity following the cancellation of the maintenance contract with Denel Aero Manpower Group (AMG) in 2016 after the Auditor General found non-compliance with the Public Finance Management Act.

“We terminated the contract because no service-level agreement had been signed with the company. Not only that – no skills development or skills transfer took place between the company and the younger members of the Air Force. At that time, we realised we weren’t benefiting anything from keeping this open-ended contract…Subsequently, we decided to terminate the contract.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said that, “we are now, as I said, developing internal capacity. Hopefully, we will succeed, but I really believe it is way cheaper than what we were paying prior to the cancellation of the contract.” She said local labour costs will be a third less than overseas rates.

The minister said procedures for chartering VIP aircraft are being revised after Ramaphosa’s controversial flight to Botswana. She explained that chartering an aircraft is done in two ways: via a state charter contract by National Treasury called RT61 or via an open tender process.

“The RT61 National Treasury contract was specifically structured to ease and speed up the process and is, therefore, the first option to use when given short notice. The RT61 contract is awarded and managed by National Treasury. The SA Air Force’s only input in this process is to supply a user requirement specification. Once the contracts have been awarded by National Treasury the SA Air Force receives a list of contracted companies and aircraft types listed by registration number and the approved tariff per aircraft type. Each company on this list is awarded a number of points, and when an aircraft is chartered from the list, the company with the highest number of points must be approached first. Only if this company is unable to provide an aircraft may the next company be approached.

“Details of aircraft ownership are never disclosed on the RT61 contract to the SA Air Force. However, in view of this latest incident [regarding Botswana], internal processes and procedures have already been revised and updated to scrutinise all aircraft owners, operators, air crews and licences so that when we are given a list by National Treasury, we then.. in the past, we never asked for the owners of the aircraft.”

Speaking to Parliament, Mapisa-Nqakula implied that South Africa will not be acquiring another VIP jet. “I think this happened for two or three years in succession where there was debate about whether to buy or not. We were criticised by everybody,” she said.

“However, our argument at the time with National Treasury was that some years ago, an Airbus [A400M Atlas] contract was cancelled. We argued that, as a result, the Air Force, through the Defence Force, did have money – money that had gone to the national fiscus. That was the basis on which we thought we could procure an aircraft. When they put their foot down and said we couldn’t buy the craft, we stopped. In the main, it had to do with the fact that there was a lot of hullabaloo about buying an aircraft. We were criticised heavily by some of you and, of course, this has resulted in us spending more than what we would have spent had we bought an aircraft.”