The South African Air Force (SAAF) has paid R58.1 million to Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd since 2005 to date to provide “product support services” to the presidential Boeing Business Jet (BBJ). The latest extension of a R33.2 million contract awarded in July 2005 was for R1.4 million and came last Thursday.
The BBJ, a modified Boeing 737-700 was acquired in the 1990s under Project Jarmen I at a cost of US37.5 million for the aircraft and US$13.5 million for the fittings, translating to about R500 million at the time, plus R82 million in value added tax, according to an INet-Bridge report, Presidential Jet costs detailed, on October 18, 2002. The aircraft made its first flight in 1998 and was delivered to the SAAF on June 26, 2001, replacing the Dassault Falcon 900 used as presidential transport up to that time. It was named Inkwazi (Fish Eagle) and is registered as ZS-RSA.
Inkwazi may shortly be joined by a second BBJ. A well-placed source has told defenceWeb the SAAF will on July 1 take delivery of a second BBJ as well as a slightly smaller Bombardier Global Express XRS. Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu noted earlier this month the money for the five-year lease would come from National Treasury and not out of the current defence budget of R34.6 billion, which she said was already “woefully inadequate.”
The Mail & Guardian reported earlier this month Sisulu in a confidential memorandum argued for two Boeing 767 VIP transports for the dedicated use of President Jacob Zuma, two Boeing 737s for his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, and two smaller Challenger or Bombardier Global Express XRS jets for “former presidents and ministers”.
“One aircraft for intercontinental presidential travel is woefully inadequate,” Sisulu argued in the memo. “In the event that the BBJ [Boeing Business Jet] is unserviceable or in servicing, there is not another kind of aircraft that is able to fulfil presidential air transport requirements.”
Motlanthe is currently flown in the Falcon 900, which also provides back-up services to Zuma. This 19-year-old aircraft can fly only 2500 nautical miles before refuelling, less than half the distance to London, the memo points out. Attached to the memo is a letter from aviation services firm Execujet, arguing that it would be cheaper to buy new aircraft than to continue operating those more than 10 years old.
Secretary for Defence Mpumi Mpofu said the price of the lease had to be offset against the ever-increasing cost of maintaining the ever-more-elderly VIP-transport fleet as well as the cost of leasing when the BBJ, Falcon 900, two Falcon 50s and assorted smaller aircraft were either unavailable or unsuitable. She described the costs as increasingly “untenable.”.
Gagiano noted that one recent flight to South America on a Reserve Force air commando aircraft required six refueling stops. He added that VIP flights were normally at night. “Over Africa you have very violent weather and the infrastructure is bad. Landing in Africa at night is looking for trouble” in addition to being time-consuming and tiring. Gagiano said VIP flights should have a minimum of stops, be as quick as possible and as safe as possible.
A night refuelling landing involving a leased Douglas DC9 nearly ended in disaster on the night of August 31, 2009. The aircraft, carrying deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, then-deputy international relations and cooperation minister Sue van der Merwe as well as deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla had been scheduled to land at refuel in Bangui in the Central African Republic but could not land due to cloud cover and deficient night or bad weather landing aids. It then diverted to Gbadolite in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and circled the dark airport while using its wing lights to find a runway. On landing, one of the rear wheels burst.
The disused airport, built by one-time Zairean dictator Mobuto Sese Seko as part of his now-ruined jungle palace, is guarded by DRC troops and UN peacekeepers. After landing, they surrounded the plane. Assistance was rendered once the aircraft’s bona fides had been established, a report at the time added. The DoD in a statement in early September 2009 said Motlanthe was returning home from Libya where he had led the South African delegation to a Special Session of the African Union Assembly. “The flight departed Libya for a planned refuelling stop in Bangui the Central African Republic. On approaching Bangui, the weather was overcast and the visibility was very low. The aircraft made three approaches to Bangui airport before diverting to Gbadolite … the official alternative to Bangui on a flight planning based on 45 minute homing and holding. Gbadolite airport is a recognised airport and was the nearest suitable diversion airfield with the capacity to accommodate a DC9 aircraft.
“While the airport does not have runway lights and the pilots were unable to make radio contact with the ground control, the aircraft did not have sufficient fuel to continue to another airport. The pilots had to make a forced landing at Gbadolite. One of the rear tyres burst on landing. This did not impair the ability of the pilots to control the aircraft. The tyre was replaced on the ground by the aircraft engineer. There was no damage to the aircraft”, the statement added. “We wish to reiterate that at no point was the safety of the Deputy President and his delegation unduly compromised.”
The DC9, identified by aviation enthusiasts as ZS-PYB belongs to Mantuba Executive Jet, a charter company based at Lanseria Airport west of Johannesburg. It was being flown by its crew in their capacity as Air Force Reserve officers under the long-established “air commando” system in terms of which reserve force pilots provide their own aircraft when tasked.
Reuters reported that DRC transport minister Matthieu Pita told it the DC9 “had just 35 minutes of fuel remaining” hen it landed, “so they couldn’t go any further. The pilot took the risk, and, thank God, everything went well. There were no injuries and no damage,” Pita added.
Mpofu said at the April 13 briefing there was always a risk with air transport but added it was important to maintain a “zero incident” rate. She continued VIP flights were a “very important element” of the country’s foreign policy and defence diplomacy “that saves the country money.” Gagiano added the politicians and diplomats that used the flights were the “frontline of defence” because “wherever we go, our politicians go first to engage”.
Presidential Boeing business jet product support services – extension of ELGS/2004/484
LGS/S2010/4685 21 Apr 2011 R1 413 664,77 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
LGS/S2010/4522 22 Dec 2010 R2 362 850,28 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
LGS/S2009/4336 22 Apr 2010 R4 385 225,00 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
LGS/S2009/4185 18 Feb 2010 R438 597,00 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
LGS/S2009/4184 3 Dec 2009 R526 315,00 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
LGS/S2009/4147 15 Oct 2009 R868 421,00 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
LGS/S2008/3947 26 Mar 2009 R4 593 798,00 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
LGS/S2008/3802 9 Oct 2008 R421 053,49 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
LGS/S2008/3773 14 Aug 2008 R8 243 218,00 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
LGS/S2008/3746 26 Jun 2008 R1 646 202,00 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd
Boeing Business Jet product support services
ELGS/2004/484 21 Jul 2005 R33 261 355,00 Execujet Maintenance (Pty) Ltd