More SAAF VIP flight headaches


The South African Air Force has reportedly used up its VIP flight budget for the current financial year but has to find another R25 million to charter a suitable aircraft to fly President Jacob Zuma to two different destinations this week.

Afrikaans weekly Rapport yesterday said the money would pay for charters to China and New York. The charter aircraft will fly Zuma to the annual BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) conference in China and then on to New York before returning to South Africa.

The newspaper said it had been told by “Department of Defence sources” the estimated budget for the China flight was R12.8 million with a similar amount budgeted for the New York flight. 21 Squadron of the SAAF provides transport for government VVIPs and VIPs using business jets including the Presidential Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) Inkwazi, which reportedly has a serviceability record of over 99% and older Falcon executive jets.

A senior SAAF officer is reported as saying there was “dissatisfaction” with the quality of maintenance work done on the majority of the VIP fleet as well as on some other aircraft types in the SAAF. This has, apparently, led to a SAAF feasibility study to determine whether state-owned defence and technology conglomerate Denel should be given more of the maintenance work for SAAF VIP aircraft.

Denel, through Denel Aviation, already does maintenance and upgrade work on certain helicopters and airlifters for the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). It reportedly does not have the necessary competency certification to work on what the newspaper called “more advanced aircraft types”.

While the feasibility study is underway, maintenance contracts are expiring and indications are the entire SAAF VIP fleet could be grounded by September if there is no intervention. The maintenance contract for the Presidential bizjet has apparently already expired and maintenance is done on a cash basis, month by month.

Inkwazi is scheduled for major maintenance in Switzerland later this year but, according to the report, it has neither been discussed nor paid for.

Attempts to obtain comment from the Department of Defence and the SAAF were unsuccessful, despite repeated requests, the newspaper said.

South Africa has for years been attempting to acquire additional VIP aircraft, but to date nothing has transpired. One of the most recent efforts came earlier this year when Armscor received a letter of tasking regarding procurement of a VVIP aircraft. There has also been talk of a replacement for the Falcon 900B.