SA Air Force (SAAF) Chief, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang, is proud of the reliability of the Presidential Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) Inkwazi as well as other aircraft in the force’s VIP transport squadron.
He was speaking to opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais during an oversight visit to a number of military facilities in and around Pretoria by the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) earlier this month.
Marais has been vocal in his opposition to the acquisition of another VVIP aircraft since Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula last November gave her tacit support to an Armscor Request for Information (RfI) ahead of either purchase or lease of a VIP configured jet aircraft. He used the oversight visit to the country’s military capital to, among others, question senior SAAF personnel about the so-called problems Inkwazi had. These had seen chartered aircraft used for President Jacob Zuma at costs of more than R270 000 a day.
At the same time a board of enquiry is underway investigating various aspects of 21 Squadron operations, including “problems” experienced with the Presidential BBJ. Air Force insiders and aviation experts have put reliability of the Boeing 737 (ZS-RSA) at 98% pointing out it flew far less than similar aircraft used in civil aviation.
“Msimang expressed pride in the reliability of, among others, Inkwazi. His only concern is an inadequate budget allocation for spare parts for routine maintenance. He also confirmed this challenge with Inkwazi would apply to any new aircraft procured. Added to this, there are two other squadrons in the SAAF of older stock and needing replacement far more than Inkwazi,” Marais told defenceWeb.
The other squadrons he refers to are the major transport squadron – 28 – which is flying C-130BZ Hercules aircraft that have been in service for over 50 years, and 35 Squadron where C-47TPs, albeit revamped with turboprop engines, are more than 70 years old. One of these crashed in the Drakensberg in December 2012 killing 11 people and prompted the Minister to say she was “unhappy with our people having to use such old aircraft”.
Marais said the visit had allowed him to confirm there was nothing wrong with Zuma’s jet except for routine maintenance in the form of repair to “snags” following each flight.
“This is the same as would happen to any commercial airline,” he said, adding Zuma’s recent flight to New York aboard an SAA jet confirmed he can fly commercially.
“I would suggest he continues to do so and funds be re-allocated to maintaining Inkwazi and other jets in the SAAF. This will free up money which can be re-directed toward much-needed job creation,” Marais said adding the President “should show his seriousness for economic stability buy opting for modest modes of transportation”.
He also said statements attributed to Mapisa-Nqakula that Inkwazi was grounded for safety reasons were wrong.
“The aircraft was recently used for training new pilots and some senior officers also used it to fly to AFB Langebaanweg and other air force bases. Added to this Msimang has not received complaints from the Presidency that Inkwazi is unreliable,” Marais said.