Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s assertion that Treasury approval has been granted for the acquisition of new VIP aircraft appears to have become bogged down in bureaucratic inertia.
Defence Secretary Dr Sam Gulube this week indicated the SA Air Force (SAAF) was “reviewing its requirements and available budget” with regard to VIP aircraft operated by 21 Squadron.
When she presented her budget to Parliament at the end of May, Mapisa-Nqakula told the House that funding had been approved and the “ball would start rolling” to meet her acquisition deadline of the current financial year.
The requirement for more VIP aircraft in the long-range jet category is a fairly longstanding one but has been hamstrung by budgetary constraints. It was thrust into the limelight as far back as 2009 when mechanical and other problems experienced by a chartered aircraft used by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. One of these resulted in an official visit to Finland having to be missed.
In another incident, the Presidential BBJ Inkwazi was shadowed by two aircraft – a Bombardier global Express XRS and an Airbus A340-200 owned and operated by the national carried SAA – while on the flight to the United States.
To better manage its VIP flights the SAAF created a single command at AFB Waterkloof, where 21 Squadron is based. This command would be the one tasked with reviewing and setting requirements for any new VIP aircraft acquisitions.
Aviation industry insiders point out that the requirement for another VIP aircraft “could not have changed substantially” since last May. That was when a quotation was issued by the Defence Secretary. Among others it specified “non-stop flights to Australia, the United State, Japan and so on to reduce schedule risks”. It also indicated the aircraft should have a range of at least 7 200 nautical miles.
South African representatives of Airbus and Boeing said they were not aware of any requests for information (RfI) or requests for proposals (RfP) yet having been received by their principal’s head offices.