If Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s stated aim of having another VIP aircraft on the apron at Air Force Base Waterkloof by March 31 next year is met, the chances of it being a new aircraft are just about zero.
Local aviation industry sources and military aviation watchers point out the time needed for specialist aircraft interior fitment operators to meet the requirements set by a client, in this instance Armscor on behalf of the SA Air Force, can be up to three years. That means even if an aircraft was ordered immediately after the Armscor Request for Information (RFI) closes this Friday (November 20) it is unlikely to happen as Armscor then has to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) and only once these have been received can the possibility of actually committing to ordering an aircraft be considered.
So the indications are a second-hand aircraft will be acquired as an interim solution to the new acquisition Armscor chief executive Kevin Wakeford last week termed the South African Air Force (SAAF) inter-continental transport system in support of diplomacy.
Others in local aviation pointed out a Global Express spent a year being fitted out to exclusive VIP requirements and warned if not booked well in advance at operations such as Jet Aviation and Lufthansa Technik there “could be quite a wait”.
Military watcher and writer Darren Olivier points out Inkwazi, the Boeing 737 bizjet currently used almost exclusively by President Jacob Zuma, took 18 months from first flight to arrival in South Africa after being completed by Jet Aviation in Switzerland.
What it indicates is the Minister’s sudden keenness to acquire another VIP aircraft for the stretched 21 Squadron to fulfil its mandate of moving government VIPs around the country, continent and the world will, if it is to happen speedily, not be a new aircraft.
Sunday newspapers a week ago put the cost of the proposed acquisition at around the R4 billion mark. This was rubbished by Wakeford who told a media briefing at AFB Waterkloof no budget had yet been decided on. Knowledgeable people in the aviation industry subsequently said depending on the aircraft selected and the specifications for interior finishings and fitments it could cost in the region of R3 billion.
City Press reported this weekend that the SAAF “is working to make a purchase soon”. Final presentations from preferred suppliers need to have been considered by mid-January, the paper said, adding it was the first time the SAAF stated a need for an aircraft capable of flying non-stop to New York or Moscow with a passenger complement of 30.
The Department of Defence in late 2011 issued a tender for two new VIP aircraft for President Jacob Zuma and his deputy after cancelling the lease for two VIP Embraer Lineage 1000 jets in April. It then said it would take delivery of a second Boeing Business Jet and a Bombardier Global Express XRS from ExecuJet, but this never happened either. In mid-2013 Defence Secretary Dr Sam Gulube indicated the SAAF was “reviewing its requirements and available budget” with regard to VIP aircraft operated by 21 Squadron