The SA Air Force (SAAF) followed all set prescripts as regards the charter of an aircraft for a trip to Japan by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and it, the SA National Defence Force and the Defence Ministry have nothing to answer for.
This was the thrust of Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s media briefing on the matter earlier today which she also used to highlight the lack of capacity in the airborne arm of the South African military.
She told the briefing at AFB Waterkloof she had asked questions following reports earlier in the week about Ramaphosa’s flight aboard a Bombardier Global Express 600, owned by a company associated with the Gupta family.
“The VIP squadron of the SAAF maintains and operates its own fleet of aircraft but if these are not available for any reason or not suitable for the specifications of a particular flight, a suitable aircraft may be chartered to be operated by the SAAF.
“The requirements were received by the SAAF for the deputy president’s visit to Japan. Two important requirements were a minimum of fuel stops and that there should be adequate rest and sleeping facilities.
“For all flight requests the first option is to consider SAAF aircraft. The Boeing 737, which meets all the requirements, was not available and the only other aircraft close to meeting them is the Falcon 900. It would have to have made multiple stops and carries fewer passengers, but was also unavailable due to maintenance.
“The next option is to charter via either a state charter contract through National Treasury (RT-61) or open tender. The Treasury contract was instituted to ease and speed up the process. I must stress the SAAF’s only input in the process is to supply a user requirement specification,” she said adding information provided to the SAAF on this particular charter, as with others it has concluded, did not include aircraft ownership.
Mapisa-Nqakula said the only way to eliminate this type of “problem” in future was to “capacitate the SAAF with a dedicated fleet with sufficient capacity to meet both the transport and air defence requirements of the country”.
Work on a staggered implementation of acquiring this capacity, for aircraft, aircrew and technical personnel, is in place and will be done in line with the milestone one targets of the Defence Review.
“I will provide details of the implementation plan as soon as Cabinet has approved it,” she said.
The South African Air Force’s 21 Squadron operates a fleet of VIP/VVIP aircraft, including a Boeing BBJ, a Falcon 900 and two Falcon 50s. Normally president Jacob Zuma flies on the BBJ (ZS-RSA ‘Inkwazi’) and the deputy president and senior cabinet ministers will fly on board the Falcon 900 and other aircraft if the routes are suitable. Aircraft are chartered when the 21 Squadron aircraft are unavailable or when those that are available are unsuitable.
Darren Olivier from African Defence Review points out that contrary to popular belief, the SAAF does not make the decision on which charter companies will be awarded the tenders or which aircraft will be chartered. Those decisions are made by National Treasury, under the RT61 set of contracts which govern everything from aircraft used to repatriate illegal immigrants to their home countries through to VVIP aircraft for the president.
“Government departments, such as the Department of Defence, who want to use chartered aircraft can only use the companies and aircraft specified in that National Treasury RT61 contracts and are required to pay the given charter costs out of their own operating funds. So in the case of VVIP transport, defined as the transporting of the president, vice president and senior cabinet ministers, the South African Air Force will contact the preferred supplier listed in the RT61 documentation, book each of the flights needed and pay the supplier the rate agreed to by National Treasury,” Olivier notes.
Winning bidders are chosen according to the dry cost of the lease and their ability to meet the requirement of each sub-tender, both of which make up 90 out of the possible 100 points they can be awarded, with the remaining 10 points being based on their B-BBEEE status.