The South African Air Force has been taken to task by Members of Parliament after Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe missed his Finland leg of a recent trip to the Nordic countries because of technical problems with a leased aircraft.
Reports also claimed that Motlanthe’s rented aircraft had made an emergency landing in New Zealand last month. But the South African National Defence Force has since denied stories of the emergency landing, the state BuaNews agency adds.
The Chief of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano and senior staff were questioned on the outsourced aircraft for Motlanthe by the Joint Standing Committee on Defence yesterday. The delegation had come to Parliament to make presentations on progress made around transformation.
The committee asked why the Deputy President’s aircraft got “stuck twice recently”. The MPs also asked why the Air Force continued to do business with the company providing the plane – ExecuJet– given recent problems. Due to time constraints on the part of the committee, Gagiano could not respond to the questions but was told to get the matter sorted out. Gagiano told media following the meeting that the aircraft – Global Express – was the best for the job in terms of range of travel and capacity. He said while they had provided requirements for renting out the aircraft, it was outsourced for a year by the National Treasury through a tender process.
Gagiano said the company’s other aircraft for carrying principals, their eight-year-old Boeing 737 was in a “big service” for three months. He said that another alternative, a Dassault Falcon 900, aged 26, lacked capacity, highlighting that the aircraft only carried eight people and had “tight” sleeping space for long haul trips.
Gagiano said that the best option was for South Africa to have its own VIP planes. Again, in such a scenario, he said, they still needed to outsource other planes for use as backup.
Some MPs also expressed frustration and disappointment with what they saw as the slow pace of transformation in the flying service. MPs asked Gagiano when he would retire to pave the way for black people. Gagiano said that he had retired in March, but was reappointed by President Jacob Zuma for one more year.
At issue in his presentation was that the majority of black people in the Air Force seemed to remain at the bottom while the middle and senior management was populated by white people, BuaNews said. Gagiano conceded that there was a problem, adding that it was costly to fast track the retirement of the senior personnel and allow black people to rise to the top. He said that white seniors were reluctant to leave as they had signed contracts which only allowed them to retire at the age of 60. “Voluntary resignations have dropped considerably with the downturn of the world economy and the improvement of conditions of service for SANDF members,” he said.
He indicated that most senior staff under 55 were reluctant to accept retirement packages due to the limitations of the Government Employees Pension Fund. “Rank mobility” was being blocked by lack of vacant posts at senior level, adding that course backlogs had prevented the promotion of junior noncommissioned officers in time, while enhancing black middle management officers in 2005 had contributed to decreased black candidates available for senior supervisors’ posts.
Also of concern to the committee was that African women were being denied the opportunity to fly because they did not fit in the cockpit. The committee said that the Air Force should come up with a program to accommodate these women “who want to put their lives on the line to defend their country”.
In terms transformation in the forces, MPs said that the South African Navy was leading while the Air Force was at the bottom. Gagiano and his delegation were set to return to Parliament next month with better responses for the legislators.