With the SA Air Force’s VIP squadron still apparently not able to fly President Cyril Ramaphosa, his deputy David Mabuza and other Cabinet ministers, national carrier South African Airways (SAA) is providing aircraft but it is costing a lot.
Afrikaans weekly Rapport has it that the SAAF forked out R1.5 million for a single return flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg using an SAA aircraft on 21 June.
The aircraft used can reportedly carry 317 passengers, but for the VIP flight it carried between 20 and 30 passengers, the paper reported a senior SAA official as saying.
Jets are leased when there are no commercial flights available for Ramaphosa. Aviation experts approached by the paper said the cost of leasing a private jet for up to 30 people to fly Cape Town/Johannesburg should be in the region of R350 000.
Rapport has seen invoices from SAA showing the use of aircraft either belonging to or leased by the national carrier costing the SAAF R50 million in four months.
A recent flight to Canada using an SAA aircraft where Ramaphosa attended the G7 summit reportedly cost between R7 and R10 million.
SAAF officers responsible for payments reportedly said the arrangement was causing problems with SAAF and SANDF accounting systems as payments are not made according to prescribed regulations.
Rapport has it that SAA “simply” provides a letter with prices for specific flights. There are no comparative quotes, required by National Treasury regulations. Additionally, SAA does not itemise its accounts to the SAAF setting out how the final price was calculated.
After finding himself aboard an aircraft owned by businessman Zunaid Moti, apparently wanted by Interpol, earlier this year Ramaphosa said he would fly only in SAAF or SAA aircraft.
Khusela Diko, Presidency spokesperson, said the President “tries to use the least expensive available air travel as a matter of principle”. Where commercial flights are not available, the SAAF has the responsibility of sourcing an alternative.
Department of Defence head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini told the paper the SAAF would pay for all VIP flights “until a new tender was finalised”.
Due to apparent technical glitches in 2015 and 2016, the presidential Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) was not used for official purposes and instead charters were used – between 2015 and 2018 the SAAF spent R97 million on VIP charter flights.