The South African Air Force is to lease two Embraer Linaege 1000 jets for VIP transport for five years at a cost of some US$120 million (about R808 million), the Afrikaans daily, Beeld, reports. The paper says the lease was awarded in the last week via Embraer’s local agent, AdoAir; a small aviation company based at Lanseria airport and owned by Nigerian businessman Adegboyega Olulade.
Beeld adds the lease was confirmed by Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya. He told the paper’s Erika Gibson the planes will be put in use as soon as possible. The lease was necessary because of the age of the SAAF VIP fleet. The aircraft, to be assigned to 21 Squadron, will be used to support the Inkwazi, the Presidential Boeing Business Jet and will allow the SAAF to use its own assets when the BBJ is undergoing maintenance, rather than making use of alternative aircraft rented at high cost.
The Afrikaans daily adds five companies were asked to tender for the requirement, including Bombardier (Global Express), Gulfstream (G550) and Dassault (Falcon 7X).
21 Squadron currently flies an all-jet VIP fleet consisting of two eight-seat Dassault Falcon 50 acquired second-hand in 1982 and 1985, a single 19-seat Dassault Falcon 900 bought in 1992 and two nine-seat Cessna 550 Citation IIs purchased in 1983. The 18-seat B737-7ED BBJ was delivered in January 2003. Beeld says its unclear where the funding will come from although it suspects the National Treasury and Presidency may provide some. The February Estimates of National Expenditure made no mention of this acquisition, although it did note an increase of 21.6% in the Transport and Maritime Capability subprogramme to “provide for the upgrade of the Falcon 900 project and the increased serviceability of the C130 aircraft capability.”
The Embraer will be able to carry a minimum of 17 passengers and offer sleeping quarters, together with toilet and showers, for two passengers; onboard computer, facsimile and communications systems; and two conference facilities for at least six passengers.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has questioned the move, which did not appear in the Armscor Bulletin System. “Why are we spending R800-million on aircraft for VIPs when millions of people do not have housing, health and basic services? With R800 million, for example, 10 000 RDP houses could be provided,” defence spokesman David Maynier said.
“The use of the South African Air Force for the purpose of ferrying around VIPs needs close scrutiny. The ministerial handbook is clear: the use of defence force aircraft for these purposes should be the exception, not the rule.”