With National Treasury approval in the bag, the South African National Defence Force is now ready to start the process of acquiring at least one and possibly four aircraft for the exclusive use of the President and members of his Cabinet.
Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the nation last week that funding has been approved and Defence Secretary Dr Sam Gulube will start the ball rolling to meet her acquisition deadline of the current financial year.
This will entail issuing Request for Information (RFI) documents to manufacturers or suppliers of aircraft deemed suitable for moving those in top government positions all over the world.
After this, suppliers who can meet the specifications set for the aircraft by a specialist team from the SA Air Force’s dedicated VVIP unit at AFB Waterkloof will have to respond to Requests for Proposals (RFP), Requests for Tenders (RFT) and Requests for Quotations (RFQ). All this information will be evaluated before a final decision is taken on which aircraft to acquire and from whom.
Aviation industry observers locally are of the opinion RFIs will go to at least Airbus, Boeing and Embraer, with some seeing Russian aviation companies also being offered the opportunity to come in at the first level of enquiry.
The only long haul aircraft currently available to President Zuma is a Boeing 737-7ED, a bizjet acquired in January 2003. Its registration is ZS-RSA and it is called Inkwazi and operated by 21 Squadron.
Last year an abortive acquisition was launched by Mapisa-Nqakula’s Department of Defence and Military Veterans for a Boeing 777-200LR.
The Secretary for Defence explained the acquisition as being for “a VVIP flying capability which is a distinctive feature of the need for any nation to ensure that its Presidency is able to operate in a safe and secured manner that is reflective of the intentions and national interests of the country. This need is critical to the efficient and effective operations of the Government of the Republic of South Africa”.
At that time the aircraft configuration was requested to be such that it could carry up to 40 passengers as well as having the necessary safety and security considerations.
The aircraft offered for purchase had to be able to undertake non-stop flights to Australia, Japan and the United States of America, the May 2012 letter from Gulube stated.
In addition to Inkwazi, 21 Squadron operates a Dassault Falcon 50, a Dassault Falcon 90 and two Cessna Citations to transport top government representatives and officials.
With the acquisition of VVIP aircraft confirmed at National Treasury level, the Minister is also seeking to improve the airlift capability of the SA Air Force (SAAF).
She told Parliament and a post defence budget briefing it was not right for the SAAF to use aircraft “older than 60 years” (in reference to the C-47TP that crashed into the Drakensberg in December, killing all 11 people aboard).
Mapisa-Nqakula also bemoaned the fact that the SAAF was spending “millions of dollars” on chartering aircraft when this funding could be used to acquire own aircraft.
She did not elaborate on whether new military airlift acquisitions would mean the removal of the C-130BZ Hercules from the fleet inventory after 50 years of service or whether still to be acquired airlifters would operate alongside 28 Squadron’s workhorses.