President Jacob Zuma’s trip to the United States of America in September, where he attended the annual session of the General Assembly of the United Nations and then visited Houston in Texas to strengthen economic and educational ties, cost taxpayers some R6.3 million.
Answering a parliamentary question, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu said the aircraft and crew cost R3 731 174.67 to charter. The fuel as well as handling costs added another estimated R2.6 million, giving a total of R6 331 174.67. The fuel and handling costs were estimated “due to outstanding invoices.”
Sisulu added the aircraft used for the flight was a Boeing 727 chartered from Fortune Air. The aircraft left Waterkloof for New York on September 17, New York for Houston on September 23 and home from Houston to Waterkloof on September 24. “Fortune Air is being used as a service provider because the company has been awarded the RT-61 state contract by National Treasury to provide VIP transport to state departments,” Sisulu said. “The dedicated Presidential Boeing 737 aircraft, Inkwazi, is undergoing a two yearly service and is out of commission from September 4 until November 30, 2011.”
The Mail & Guardian in April reported that Sisulu in a confidential memorandum argued for two Boeing 767 VIP transports for the dedicated use of President Jacob Zuma, two Boeing 737s for his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, and two smaller Challenger or Bombardier Global Express XRS jets for “former presidents and ministers”.
“One aircraft for intercontinental presidential travel is woefully inadequate,” Sisulu argues in the memo. “In the event that the BBJ [Boeing Business Jet] is unserviceable or in servicing, there is not another kind of aircraft that is able to fulfil presidential air transport requirements.”
The Sunday Times earlier this month reported that two new aircraft are to be acquired, but details remain very sketchy. Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya told the paper the department has not yet decided whether it will lease or buy the aircraft. The Sunday Tribune added the ministry has turned to the Treasury to help find R1.6 billion for the new aircraft.
“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 [Inkwazi] 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.
It was also announced in April that the military would lease two Embraer Lineage 1000 VIP jets for five years from AdoAir, 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 AdoAir, with a return date of July 25. However, this was cancelled on August 5. Mabaya said that his department was fighting in court to get out of the cancelled agreement with AdoAir.
The rocky road to procuring new VIP aircraft led to the resignation of defence secretary Mpumi Mpofu and the chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano last month. Mabaya said the department chief financial officer, Mziwonke Dlabantu, is acting in her place. Sisulu subsequently did not accept Gagiano’s resignation.
Another “embarrassment” was that Zuma was flown to the US by two pilots convicted for taking part in the botched 2004 attempt to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea. Mabaya said that non-SAAF pilots were probably hired because the Air Force did not have pilots certified on the B727. “It is for this precise reason that we believe it is in the defence force’s best interest to have planes which the SAAF has pilots to fly,” Mabaya said.