SAAF leaves Ramaphosa in the lurch – again


Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was at the weekend forced to use land-bound transport to return to Pretoria after technical problems with the SA Air Force (SAAF) VIP aircraft assigned to him for a flight to and from Mpumalanga.

His spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said in a statement: “A SAAF aircraft transporting Ramaphosa developed technical faults shortly after take-off from Kruger National Park Airport [presumably Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport] on Sunday, April 3, forcing the pilot to return to the airport”.

Ramaphosa was returning from Mpumalanga on Sunday where he was installed as first Chancellor of the new University of Mpumalanga on Saturday. He also addressed the ANC-led Provincial Alliance Summit on Sunday.

Shortly after taking off from Kruger National Park Airport for Air Force Base Waterkloof on Sunday, the aircraft developed technical faults mid-air, forcing the pilot to return the aircraft safely back to the airport.

The Deputy President was, according to the statement, “driven back safely to his Johannesburg home by his SA Police Service security detail”.

Neither the SAAF nor the SANDF Directorate: Corporate Communications issued any statement in response to this weekend’s failure to fly on-time incident. This is the second time in a fortnight the South African Deputy President has experienced flight problems with the air force.

A trip to Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape over the weekend of March 19/20 to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Uitenhage massacre was cancelled due to technical problems with the SAAF aircraft tasked with the flight.

An avid military aviation watcher described the Kruger Mpumalanga incident as more a delay than a breakdown.
“There was an issue detected that would have taken up to an hour and a half to resolve but that would have caused the Deputy President to miss an event”.
“Had the scheduling been more flexible it’s likely the flight would have gone ahead as planned, even with the delay. Tight scheduling is a common problem especially as certain politicians are reportedly late for flights on a regular basis,” he said.

Another problem that regularly crops up for 21 Squadron is an apparent insistence on dedicated aircraft – Inkwazi for the President and the Falcon 900 for the Deputy President. If there is any issue with either, aircraft have to be chartered.

At least a partial solution would be to use the SAAF VIP fleet as a shared resource with ZS-RSA (Inkwazi) used for long range flights only and the Falcon 900, Falcon 500 and Citation 550s used domestically.

March 31 was said by Armscor chief executive Kevin Wakeford to have been the date Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, wanted to see an additional VIP aircraft on the hardstand at AFB Waterkloof. This date has passed with no announcement of any acquisition and no indication from the acquisition agency as to when and if the SAAF will find itself with another VVIP aircraft in its inventory.