Will the new VVIP aircraft acquisition become reality?


Pronouncements around the SA Air Force’s (SAAF) VIP transport capability and the “need” to acquire another jet for executive transport surface with almost monotonous regularity and the only current certainty is no new aircraft has yet either been bought or leased.

On the one hand Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula seems to feel the security of the “principal”, President Jacob Zuma, in 99 cases out of 100, is paramount. This is apparently in reference to occasions when the Presidential Boeing 737 has experienced technical problems creating logistic problems for those responsible for moving South Africa’s first citizen from place to place. On the other side of the fence the chief of the air force General Fabian Zakes Msimang is on record as saying he is “proud” of the reliability of the Presidential Boeing 737, Inkwazi, as well as other 21 Squadron aircraft.

It appears the SAAF knew stormy weather was coming as far as its VIP and VVIP transport operations were concerned as far back as 2011. That was when a single, separate command was established at AFB Waterkloof to manage VIP flights.

An official board of enquiry into VIP aircraft movements is currently underway but that seems shrouded in secrecy with no indication of when it will be finished or what will happen to its report. Not confirmed is that the board’s tasking includes maintenance.

Adding to the mixture is the Presidency itself which put out a statement last month indicating Zuma would prefer to use SAAF aircraft. This only days before he boarded an SAA commercial flight to New York for this year’s UN General Assembly.

The search for a new VIP aircraft has been long and tortuous, with at least four abortive attempts since 2011. By 2014 VIP acquisition had been put on the Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan (SCAMP) project list and in October 2015 Armscor issued a Request for Information for the acquisition of an ‘intercontinental air transport system’ with a closing date of November 20. Mapisa-Nqakula said she wanted a new VIP aircraft by the end of March 2016, but on April 22 Armscor issued a tender for the wet lease of an intercontinental VIP aircraft for at least 12 months. The aircraft was to commence service on June 1, but that date has come and gone. In spite of round after round of tenders issued by Armscor, no new aircraft has yet been ordered.

That, sort of, sums up the acquisition of another bizjet.

Some say yes, meaning no; some say no, meaning yes and at the end of the day, nothing happens.

Who’s at fault? Those responsible for writing the specifications on which the Request for Information (RfI) is based, those who are supposed to make a decision based on the RfI or even the air force’s VIP command? Is the decision Armscor’s or the SAAF’s to make before the Secretary for Defence can finally sign off on the issue?
defenceWeb doesn’t know but wishes it did!