Despite the re-introduction of the airforce Presidential jet back into service, a second chartered aircraft is still following the President on his foreign travels.
The Boeing BBJ presidential jet, operated by 21 Squadron of the South African Air Force, returned to South Africa in late December last year after undergoing scheduled maintenance in Switzerland for the previous three months.
In the absence of the BBJ, civilian aircraft had to be chartered for the transport of the President and other VIPs. However, mechanical problems on the chartered aircraft led to a number of diversions and precautionary landings. This, together with delays in the procurement of additional VIP aircraft, led to the resignation of Secretary for Defence Mpumi Mpofu.
However, it would appear that those responsible for arranging transport for the President and his entourage are taking no chances, perhaps fearing for their own jobs. A private aircraft was hired to ‘shadow’ the air force BBJ for the trip by President Jacob Zuma to New York this past week, ahead of South Africa’s officially assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for January.
The aircraft, a Bombardier Global Express XRS owned by Aralia Trading (Pty) Ltd, was chartered to follow Zuma on his journey so as to act as a back-up aircraft should the BBJ experience any mechanical issues on the trip. Both aircraft arrived back in South Africa on Friday night at almost the same time. Both aircraft used official SAAF call-signs. The cost to charter the private aircraft is not known.