Sisulu advises postponement of VIP jet procurement

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Former Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu has advised the Secretary for Defence to suspend the process of purchasing new VIP aircraft for the President and Deputy President until he had received the necessary direction from the new defence minister, who is still settling in to her new post.

“There are a number of ways you can approach the provision of air transport for the President and Deputy President, from lease to purchase,” Sisulu said today. “We had come to the conclusion that purchasing was the best option, but we did not want to impose that on the new Minister, we wanted her to look at the challenge, analyse it and find the best solution without any pressure, so we said to the Secretary for Defence it is wise to suspend the negotiations and process until the new Minister has settled in and defined her priorities, it is a complex matter”, Sisulu said.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula will later this week comment on possible moves by the government to acquire VIP aircraft for President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe. Various media reports allege that the government was interested in buying a 777-200LR aircraft from Boeing and a Global Express 600 jet from Bombardier. Secretary for Defence Sam Gulube is in the United States, apparently to finalise the purchase of the aircraft.

Defence Department Head of Communications Siphiwe Dlamini told defenceWeb that Mapisa-Nqakula would comment on the matter this week. On Friday he said that she would “engage the media on the projects and programmes in a week’s time, after a briefing on these.” Dlamini said the minister was being briefed by all services of the South African National Defence Force, but the briefings were taking longer than expected due to an ANC policy conference.

The Sunday Independent quoted a source ‘close to the acquisition’ as saying they had proof of a deal with Boeing, but that it may have been cancelled. “Incontrovertible evidence in the possession of the Sunday Independent shows that, under the heading “Department of Defence Acceptance of Boeing Proposal”, on May 29 Gulube officially accepted Boeing’s proposal number 6 – 1105 – KJN12-547R2 for the 777 aircraft as well as the prices quoted therein,” the newspaper said.

It goes on to state that the 777 could cost US$155 million (R1.26 billion), but adding a VIP interior would cost an extra US$80 million (R672 million). Boeing is not allowed to comment on possible sales, according to Boeing communication director Adam Morgan. However, it is not clear whether a final definitive purchase agreement was signed with Boeing.

It has also been reported that the government could acquire a Bombardier Global Express 600 aircraft worth US$28 million (R235 million) for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
“It is simply wrong to waste nearly R2 billion on President Jacob Zuma’s new business jet when so many people in our country are poor,” stated David Maynier, the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Minister of Defence & Military Veterans. “The minister’s honeymoon in the defence and military veterans portfolio is now over and she now needs to make a public statement as a matter of urgency.”
“The new minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has clearly inherited a huge mess,” Maynier stated, and called on her to “cancel the dodgy deal” with Boeing, which he alleges was being negotiated by Sisulu.
“The former minister turned the defence department into a state-within-a-state and refused to disclose any information on capital acquisition projects including the acquisition of “VIP aircraft” for the South African Air Force,” Maynier added.

The Department of Defence is busy looking for two new VIP aircraft for top government officials and the SAAF is busy working on the requirements for the new jets and will issue a tender once these have been finalised. Late in May Defence Department spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya said the leasing and purchase processes were ongoing and the department would communicate the details once the deals had been concluded.

In April 2011 it was announced that the South African Air Force (SAAF) would lease two Embraer Lineage 1000 VIP jets for five years from Ado Air, at a cost of US$120 million (R800 million). Then later in April it was announced that the lease plan was scrapped and the Air Force would instead on July 1 take delivery of a second Boeing Business Jet and a Bombardier Global Express XRS from ExecuJet.

That date came and went with no aircraft delivered. Then, on July 14 a request for quotation for a VIP transport lease was sent out to ExecuJet, SRS Aviation, Fortune Air, Interjet and Ado Air, with a return date of July 25. However, this was cancelled on August 5.

In May Ado Air and the Department of Defence appeared in court to argue over the cancellation of the tender. Court documents stated that the department initially suspected tender irregularities but Gulube said the department is satisfied with the answers given and with the integrity of the procurement process, but added that there was confusion over the tender with Ado Air.

In November last year Mabaya said that, “We are going to buy a plane for the president….The new, bigger plane is going to be responsible for longer international trips such as [to] Europe and America. The current one [a Boeing Business Jet] will be used mainly for domestic regional trips so that when the one is resting, we make use of the other one because right now if the [BBJ] breaks down, we have to go out and rent a plane,” he said.

The search for new VIP aircraft follows a number of issues, including:

  • an emergency landing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo involving Motlanthe in 2009;
  • an emergency landing in New Zealand involving Motlanthe in 2011;
  • mechanical failure of a chartered aircraft resulting in the scrapping of one leg of a state visit to Finland, Sweden and Denmark involving Motlanthe in 2011;
  • the use of a controversial former mercenary pilot to fly a chartered aircraft to the United States involving Zuma in 2011;
  • a flawed R800 million tender to lease two Embraer Lineage 1000 business jets for the South African Air Force in 2011; and
  • the use of so-called shadow planes– a Bombadier Global Express XRS and an Airbus A340 (200 Series) – that were used to backup Zuma’s Boeing Business Jet during a recent visit to the United States.

    Chief of the SAAF, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano in April last year said that it took “a lot of tender loving care” to maintain the current VIP transport fleet operated by 21 Squadron and that most aircraft were more than 30 years old. Finding new aircraft for VIPs, he said, had become “a necessity” due to the rising costs of maintenance.
    21 Squadron flies a Falcon 900B, two Falcon 50s, two Cessna Citations and a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ – Inkwazi). The latter is the only intercontinental aircraft in the squadron. It spent three months in Switzerland last year undergoing maintenance and only arrived back in South Africa on December 21.

    Zuma and Motlanthe make heavy use of VIP flights. The Department of Defence recently revealed that Zuma undertook 286 flights aboard SAAF VIP aircraft and chartered jets since 2009, at a cost of R140.5 million. Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, on the other hand, embarked on 213 flights in the same period, at a cost of R70 million.



    A total of 234 VIP flights were conducted by the South African Air Force’s 21 Squadron for President Zuma, while 25 flights were conducted by SAAF Reserve squadrons and 27 flights were chartered.