SAAF has conducted 362 helicopter VIP flights over last three years, costing R45 million

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The South African Air Force has conducted 362 flights using its helicopters to transport VIPs since 2009, costing R45 531 228.6, according to information contained in a reply to a parliamentary question.

Theo Coetzee, the opposition Democratic Alliance party’s Shadow Deputy Minister of State Security, asked the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans how many flights were undertaken with helicopters operated by the South African Air Force (SAAF) to transport VIP’s. In a response dated May 25, the Minister provided the following information:

Date

Flights

Cost

2009-10

63

R6 037 187.00

2010-11

131

R13 055 959.80

2011-12

137

R20 285 489.40

1 April 2012 to latest available date

31

R6 152 592.40

Total

362

R45 531 228.6

The response did not specify what helicopters were used for VIP flights but the helicopters involved are believed to be Denel Oryx, AgustaWestland AW109 LUHs and MBB BK 117s.

David Maynier, the Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, today stated that “the Ministerial Handbook for Members of the Executive and Presiding Officers is clear: members of the executive may use military aircraft for official purposes under exceptional circumstances only. This is clearly not happening.” Maynier said he would ask defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula the names of the ministers using SAAF VIP aircraft and what is being done to reduce the number and cost of such flights.

Earlier this year it was revealed that between 2009 and May 2012, the South African Air Force (SAAF) conducted 869 VIP flights, either by its own or chartered aircraft, at a total cost of R293 million.

The SAAFs spent R76.2 million chartering 55 flights for VIPs over the last three years, according to information from the Department of Defence. Its own aircraft conducted 814 VIP flights over the same period, at a cost of R217 million.

Since 2009 the South African Air Force conducted 606 VIP flights using aircraft from 21 Squadron (BBJ, Falcon 900, Falcon 50) and 208 flights using aircraft from reserve squadrons (Citation, DC-9, Gulfstream II, Gulfstream III, Hawker, Premier). The 606 VIP flights conducted by 21 Squadron aircraft cost R143 156 838, while the 208 flights conducted by SAAF reserve squadrons cost a total of R74 103 469.

Maynier called the figures “staggering”. “It is entirely possible that the figures provided do not reflect the total cost of providing VIP flights. I will, therefore, be submitting follow-up questions to the newly appointed Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, probing what aircraft were used and what the breakdown of expenditure was for each of the flights undertaken by President Jacob Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and the minister. We have to get to the bottom of what is really going on in the VIP transport section of the SAAF.”

The South African Air Force’s 21 Squadron flies a Falcon 900B, two Falcon 50s, two Cessna Citations and a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ – Inkwazi). The latter is the only intercontinental aircraft in the squadron. It spent three months in Switzerland last year undergoing maintenance and only arrived back in South Africa on December 21.

The Department of Defence is currently seeking to purchase new VIP aircraft as those used presently are ageing and have been involved in a number of incidents in the past.

Last month state news agency SAnews reported Mapisa-Nqakula as saying that in the past three years, it had become apparent that aircrafts used to transport VVIPs – which include the serving President, former Presidents of the country and the incumbent Minister and Deputy Minister of Defence – were due for replacement due to maintenance and other concerns. A decision was taken to that would see the replacement of the fleet based on the totality of transportation needs and requirements for all VVIPs.

Given the length of the procurement process and that it takes about three months for fleet to undergo maintenance, the department decided to deal with the matter in a two-phase process. The first phase, which would be much quicker, would involve a leasing process through a private service provider from whom air transportation for VVIPs could be sourced when part of the normal fleet was not available.



The second phase would have involved the acquisition of new aircrafts based on the needs assessment. The requirements for air transportation for the President and Deputy President have become more urgent following several incidents involving their current aircraft. “On the basis of this, a decision was taken to engage in an urgent process to replace those two aircrafts,” said Mapisa-Nqakula last month.