More VIP aircraft for 21 Squadron


Indications are the SA Air Force (SAAF) will have at least three more VIP aircraft in service at 21 Squadron before year-end at a cost of around R2 billion.

This was revealed at the weekend by City Press. The paper reported the Presidential Boeing BBJ Inkwazi will remain in service with an additional similar aircraft joining it as well as a pair of Falcon 900 bizjets to fly President Jacob Zuma, his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, other Cabinet Ministers and delegated VIPs such as special envoys.

The “new” Boeing will apparently be a similar model to Inkwazi (737-7ED) and the paper reports it will be “second hand” and available for the “bargain price” of R600 million. No further information is supplied about the Falcon 900s but the additional Boeing bizjet is reportedly going to be delivered by the end of August.

The SAAF’s Brigadier General Marthie Visser said the air force was “compelled” to find an interim solution to supplement its VIP fleet. Currently 21 Squadron operates Inkwazi, two Falcons (a 900B and a 50) and a Citation II for the use of Government VIPs.

She said South Africa’s international relations duties and obligations had increased dramatically and it was the SAAF’s duty to have VIP aircraft available. The past few years have often seen aircraft hired because or one more of the 21 Squadron aircraft have been out of service.

A mini audit conducted by the Sunday paper of local and international flights over the past two years showed President Jacob Zuma has been abroad more than 80 times. By far the majority of these flights would have been in Inkwazi.

Aviation expert Linden Birns said Inkwazi was “not an old aircraft and being a VIP jet would not have as many hours on it compared to an airliner”.

Visser is reported by the paper as having said the purchase of “interim” aircraft meant considering moving money to the Department of Defence’s (DoD) Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan (SCAMP). This would provide access to funding. However, the budget for a plan of this nature meant other SA National Defence Force (SANDF) equipment, including new airlift, would effectively be side-lined.

The last time acquisition of presidential aircraft was discussed in Parliament, Secretary for Defence, Dr Sam Gulube, confirmed investigations into additions for the VIP fleet were underway. He also pointed out no project had been registered for the acquisition at that time and it had also not been budgeted for. In her 2012/13 budget address Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament National Treasury had approved the purchase of an additional VIP aircraft. Gulube was emphatic that this proposed acquisition had been moved to SCAMP and no further details would be made public.

Visser said the “interim” aircraft were needed while the air force searched for an ideal long-term solution.

The three additional aircraft are apparently being financed as “fleet expansions”. This makes it easier to obtain financial approval for purchase. New aircraft are usually registered as a project before National Treasury will approve their purchase.