President Jacob Zuma’s flight to New York aboard an SAA jet last Friday is proof positive South Africa does not need to buy another VVIP aircraft, opposition Freedom Front Plus party defence spokesman Pieter Groenewald maintains.
Just three days after a Presidency statement indicated both the country’s first citizen and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, would prefer to fly in SA Air Force (SAAF) aircraft, Zuma boarded a South African Airways (SAA) jet bound for New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.
This prompted Groenewald to point out that the country did not need to buy another presidential jet.
“The fact he flew commercially draws a line through all the arguments of safety, reliability and availability that are used to justify a separate presidential jet.
“It is clear Zuma can in future make use of commercial flights that are cheaper for the taxpayer.
“The use of commercial flights is in no way threatening to his safety and is more reliable, given the apparent problems Inkwazi (the Presidential Boeing 737 bizjet) has,” Groenewald said.
The “problems” with Inkwazi are currently the subject of the board of enquiry chaired by retired SAAF general Cedric Masters and its recommendations will apparently be taken into account when a decision is made – in about 18 months – on acquisition of another VVIP aircraft.
defenceWeb has been reliably informed Inkwazi’s availability stands at 98% with other aviation sector sources saying it is nearer to 100% because the aircraft logs nowhere near the flying hours of similar jets in civil aviation.
In the interim there are plans to lease an aircraft or look at the “SAA option” because, according to Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, chartering is too expensive.
Ahead of last week’s Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at AFB Waterkloof, she said contact had been made with the embattled national airline, SAA, with a view to possibly taking over one of its under-utilised long-haul aircraft. This could be refurbished in a VVIP configuration.
At the weekend, the Afrikaans weekly Rapport said negotiations were already underway between the airline, Armscor and Airbus, manufacturer of the A340-600 jet apparently identified as being suitable for conversion into a long range VVIP transport.
The aircraft was previously in service on the Johannesburg/Beijing route which SAA has scrapped because it was adding to the massive losses the national carrier is reporting. In 2014/15 SAA reported a R4.7 billion loss and for the 2015/16 financial year it reported a further R1.8 billion loss in statements tabled in the National Assembly and not yet signed off by the Auditor General .
According to Rapport, Mapisa-Nqakula has given no indication of what will happen to the 15-year-old Inkwazi while Armscor chief executive Kevin Wakeford told the paper R300 million had been budgeted for the acquisition with R100 million earmarked for the 18 month lease of an aircraft, which apparently has to be available and ready to fly on November 1.
When Armscor issued a tender for acquisition of another VVIP aircraft last November the Minister indicated she wanted it delivered to AFB Waterkloof and ready for use by March 31. None of the tenderers was deemed successful and a second tender – for the lease of a VVIP aircraft – suffered the same fate.