Steps are being taken to make the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) VIP transport squadron airworthy again with the latest development being a series of engineering support and procurement tenders issued by Armscor for the squadron’s three Falcon bizjets.
The aircraft, along with the Presidential jet Inkwazi, have been grounded, in some instances for about 12 months, due to no maintenance contracts and a lack of qualified personnel.
Now, it appears SAAF management is moving in the right direction, both as far as its VIP transport operation and other grounded aircraft, are concerned. Earlier in May Armscor issued tenders for parts and ad-hoc maintenance for its Cessna Caravans and Beechcraft King Airs, both operated by AFB Waterkloof-based 41 Squadron.
The latest Armscor tenders – EARO/2018/37, EARO/2018/35, EARO/2018/34 – relate to ad-hoc engineering support services and procurement of spares for the aircraft ZS-CAQ and ZS-CAS, both Falcon 50s and ZS-NAN, a Falcon 900.
The Falcon 50s were delivered to 21 Squadron in 1982 and 1985 with an upgrade done on both in the United States in 2005/6. This saw interiors redone as well engines upgraded to improve economy, reduce maintenance costs and improve range. A full digital upgrade was also done to the avionics suite.
The Falcon 900 was delivered to its current home at AFB Waterkloof in 1991 and as far as can be ascertained, an avionics update is all the upgrading work done. An upgrade, including engines and avionics, was apparently scheduled for the 2010/2011 financial year.
Military analyst Darren Oliver notes “with luck” Inkwazi will be operational again soon, though there are too few crews left at 21 Squadron to sustain that capability.
He adds President Cyril Ramaphosa “was highly embarrassed when the media revealed one of the chartered aircraft he flew on was owned by Zunaid Moti, as it created the impression he was somehow receiving favours. The same thing apparently happened back in 2015 when Execujet provided ZS-OAK for one of his flights.
“Plus, the RT61 contract expired because of the chaos in National Treasury under Gigaba there was no priority given to renegotiating it, so the DoD couldn’t continue to use Execujet and Fortune Air at the RT61 rates anyway.
“Given the combination of an unavailable fleet at 21 Squadron, a strict instruction from the president to never embarrass him by hiring an aircraft from a dodgy owner again and a defence minister keen to be in Ramaphosa’s good books for her political survival, going the SAA charter route was a logical decision,” he said of the president’s appearances on SAA flights.