A telling question has been asked by Congress of the People (COPE) chief whip, Deidre Carter, after her party was told the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) VIP squadron – 21 – is grounded because of delays in processing and awarding maintenance contracts for aircraft.
“If the air force cannot keep six aircraft operational and flying, what confidence can we have that they can maintain our safety, security and sovereignty as a nation?” she asked after COPE deputy president Willy Madisha was told the squadron is essentially grounded.
Madisha wanted Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to tell him – and the country – what the current operational status of the squadron is, what actions are planned to ensure the squadron will be operational in future and the cost involved.
According to the Minister, maintenance contracts are being finalised and the Department of Defence (DoD) has permission from National Treasury to charter aircraft in the meantime. Between 2015 and 2018 the SAAF spent R97 million on VIP charter flights. This includes R31 million over the past financial year, including R22 million for aircraft for ex-President Jacob Zuma.
In March Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament Armscor received a user requirement from the SAAF in December 2017 for a C-check inspection of the VVIP fleet’s Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) Inkwazi. “Armscor completed the tender process and is about to place an order with SAA Technical Ltd. Negotiations will ensue shortly to finalise the terms of the contract,” she said at the time.
Carter maintains “it is simply unconscionable” for the entire fleet of SAAF VIP aircraft not to be properly maintained and serviced.
“Part of the rationale of having our own fleet of aircraft owned and operated by the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) for Presidential and other executive travel is to ensure the safety and security of the President and other dignitaries.
“We can’t even get this fleet of six aircraft to the end of a runway! What kind of safety and protection is that?”
In November 2017 Mapisa-Nqakula, responding to a parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance’s Sarel Marais, stated that since April 2017, maintenance contracts for the Cessna Citation, Beechcraft King Air, Cessna Caravan, Boeing Business Jet and Dassault Falcon 50 and Falcon 100 had expired and were not re-advertised.
“Armscor will only re-advertise contracts that will be expiring in the 2017/18 financial year once it is in receipt of valid instructions from the DOD. To date, Armscor has not received any new instructions for the advertisement of maintenance contracts that will be expiring,” the minister stated in November.
“At the request of the SAAF, Armscor is also undertaking a review of all SAAF maintenance contracts to ensure that best value for money contracting is undertaken. In this regard, there will be different tenders that are going to be advertised such as ones for material supply, consolidation of different contracts, contracting directly with original equipment manufacturers (OEM) or maintenance and repair organisations (MRO), etc. There will also be new tenders that will be advertised that will ensure that the SAAF internal capabilities are enhanced.”