The SA National Defence Force has asked national carrier South African Airways to provide alternative planes for President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe. This comes after a series of embarrassing mechanical problems, which have affected Motlanthe’s aircraft since 2009, resulted in his missing an official trip to Finland two months ago, the City Press reports.
Following the grounding of Motlanthe, Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu met SAA and the Treasury to discuss ensuring efficient planes for the country’s first two citizens. “SAA is our national government carrier and it’s natural that they should be our first port of call,” Sisulu told City Press.
“They’ve got reserves of planes and we have a lot of technical reserves so we can work together”.
The SANDF would pay for the SAA planes and the department hopes for cheaper rates than renting from the private sector. “Both the SAA board and chief executive are very cooperative. We’re all asking ourselves why we took so long to think about this”. SAA would provide long-range planes, which can fly long distances without refuelling, for emergencies such as when one of the VIP planes has to be repaired.
SAA spokesperson Diloseng Koetle said: “SAA has sent a proposal to SANDF regarding their requirements. This lease will be on a contractual basis, as and when required, taking into consideration the availability of the aircraft and thus not impacting the scheduled operations of SAA.”
Motlanthe is flown in a 19-year-old Falcon 900 Jet, which can fly only 2500 nautical miles – less than half the distance to London – before refuelling, according to a confidential internal memorandum written by Sisulu and obtained by the Mail & Guardian in April. The memo was motivating for the purchase of four bigger, long-range VIP planes. That plan was abandoned because of financial constraints. Zuma uses a Boeing 737 aircraft, named Inkwazi, bought for former president Thabo Mbeki 10 years ago.
Since assuming office in 2009, Motlanthe has been on the receiving end of a few scares caused by problematic planes. Two years ago, he was flying back from an African Union summit in Libya when his aircraft made an emergency landing on an unlit runway in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In September, a jet flying Motlanthe to the opening of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand missed its first landing slot because of a faulty warning light. It was the same aircraft that failed to get him to Finland. This debacle – which saw Motlanthe having to take a commercial flight – led to secretary of defence, Mpumi Mpofu, resigning.