The Ministry of Defence (MoD) says a charter aircraft carrying Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe did not make an emergency landing in Wellington, New Zealand on Saturday. The Bombardier Global Express did, however miss its first landing slot due to a faulty warning light.
MoD Head of Media Services Ndivhuwo Mabaya says in a statement that on the plane’s first scheduled approach to the airport, the pilots noted a warning light suggesting that there might be something wrong in the plane brakes or tyre. “As a precautionery measure they decided to miss their first landing slot in order to cycle the airport whilst verifying the cause of the warning light. As a standard procedure the airport put on standby emergency services.
“The warning light was due to a faulty sensor indicating overheated breaks. The faulty warning light was cleared and the plane landed safely on its second slot without any problems,” Mabaya said. “We would like to reassure all South Africans that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) provides the safest air transport to the political principals and our pilots are among the best in the world. The safety of all those we transport is our highest priority at all times.”
The state BuaNews agency reports Motlanthe was on a working visit to New Zealand to discuss the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two countries. He also met the Springbok team in Wellington to give them moral support ahead of their opening World Cup game against Wales and later attended the match, which saw the Springboks win.
Eyewitness News (EWN) this morning reported the MoD has defended its hiring of the Global Express to carry Motlanthe there. The broadcaster said it was unclear exactly how much it would cost to hire the aircraft, but when Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka made a similar trip in 2008, the bill was an estimated R3 million.
Mabaya said it is standard practice to hire private jets. He added that they do not hire those planes every day. “We hire them when the other ones are not working [broken],” he said. EWN said it understood Motlanthe’s regular aircraft, a Dassault Falcon 900, was in use in South Africa on Friday. President Jacob Zuma will also be using a chartered Boeing 727 for the next three months as his official plane is being serviced.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance party in a statement said the “incident also raises questions as to why the deputy president could not have travelled to New Zealand on a commercial aircraft? This would not only have been a safe, but also a more economical option.”
A night refuelling landing involving a leased Douglas DC9 nearly ended in disaster for Motlanthe on the night of August 31, 2009. The aircraft, carrying Motlanthe, then-deputy international relations and cooperation minister Sue van der Merwe as well as deputy defence minister Thabang Makwetla had been scheduled to land at refuel in Bangui in the Central African Republic but could not land due to cloud cover and deficient night or bad weather landing aids, reports at the time said. It then diverted to Gbadolite in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and circled the dark airport while using its wing lights to find a runway. On landing, one of the rear wheels burst.
The disused airport, built by one-time Zairean dictator Mobuto Sese Seko as part of his now-ruined jungle palace, is guarded by DRC troops and UN peacekeepers. After landing, they surrounded the plane. Assistance was rendered once the aircraft’s bona fides had been established, a report at the time added. The DoD in a statement in early September 2009 said Motlanthe was returning home from Libya where he had led the South African delegation to a Special Session of the African Union Assembly. “The flight departed Libya for a planned refuelling stop in Bangui the Central African Republic. On approaching Bangui, the weather was overcast and the visibility was very low. The aircraft made three approaches to Bangui airport before diverting to Gbadolite … the official alternative to Bangui on a flight planning based on 45 minute homing and holding. Gbadolite airport is a recognised airport and was the nearest suitable diversion airfield with the capacity to accommodate a DC9 aircraft.
“While the airport does not have runway lights and the pilots were unable to make radio contact with the ground control, the aircraft did not have sufficient fuel to continue to another airport. The pilots had to make a forced landing at Gbadolite. One of the rear tyres burst on landing. This did not impair the ability of the pilots to control the aircraft. The tyre was replaced on the ground by the aircraft engineer. There was no damage to the aircraft”, the statement added. “We wish to reiterate that at no point was the safety of the Deputy President and his delegation unduly compromised.”
Reuters reported that DRC transport minister Matthieu Pita told it the DC9 “had just 35 minutes of fuel remaining” hen it landed, “so they couldn’t go any further. The pilot took the risk, and, thank God, everything went well. There were no injuries and no damage,” Pita added.