Unhappy about the lack of information supplied in answers by the Defence and Military Veterans Minister as well as the evasiveness shown by President Jacob Zuma, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has decided to go the “official route” in obtaining detail of the servicing and maintenance of the Presidential BBJ, Inkwazi.
Party leader Musi Maimane said he had on Monday submitted an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to gain access to the maintenance records of the aircraft.
“Since the announcement was made that President Zuma will be handed a brand new Presidential Jet – which is estimated to cost the taxpayer in the region of R4 billion – the rationale used to defend this procurement is that his current jet is unsafe and not fit for purpose any longer.
“Therefore it is only right that this rationale is scrutinised in order to assess whether there truly is a need for a new jet, or whether this is simply a vanity project for Jacob Zuma at the expense of the country and the taxpayer,” Maimane said in a statement.
Armscor issued a Request for Information (RfI) for what it termed “an inter-continental air transport system in support of diplomacy” last November. Earlier this year the state defence and security procurement agency said it was extending the RfI to include leasing on a suitably equipped and fitted VIP aircraft.
At the time of publication no announcement had been made on either acquisition or leasing but indications are the SA Air Force (SAAF) will in the not too distant future manage a wet-leased bizjet as part of its VVIP Operations.
Maimane maintains the President does not need a new jet – either leased or purchased – while Inkwazi remains, in terms of aircraft standards, relatively new.
The Presidential BBJ first flew in SAAF colours just on 15 years ago but, according to military analyst Darren Olivier, it has a relatively low utilisation.
“Inkwazi has flown fewer than 10 000 flight cycles thus far and is accumulating cycles at a rate of only a few hundred per year. There are decades of safe flying left in the airframe.
“Inkwazi has been one of the most reliable aircraft in the SAAF’s inventory with an extremely high dispatch rate. Even with the recent issues that hasn’t changed, with only four legs out of dozens (or hundreds) not performed and at least two of those being arguably unnecessary cancellations.
“Yet the president is still refusing to fly on Inkwazi, claiming it’s unsafe despite the SAAF carrying out numerous test flights. He is instead using the Super 727 (ZS-PVX) which costs over R80 000 for every hour it’s rented, excluding fuel.
“In the next few weeks the aircraft being leased, for 12 months, should arrive. It’ll be a full wet lease with all crewing, maintenance and probably movements handled by the lessor. That won’t be cheap, expect it to cost at least R100 million a year.”
Maimane maintains the rationale to acquire a new Presidential jet must be scrutinised to asses if there really is a need for a new one.
“We cannot take the President’s word on this matter nor the word of the Minister of Defence and thus have requested access to the records in order to make our own assessment in an open and transparent manner.
“The application is for the records from the date of delivery of the jet to the SAAF on October 21, 2002 to present date.”