Zuma’s new VIP jets will cost us R2?billion

2015-04-05 06:00

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President Jacob Zuma and other top government officials will have at least three new VIP jets at their disposal for “international commitments” before the end of the year.

Inkwazi, the presidential jet, will be supplemented by an additional Boeing Business Jet, which is expected to be delivered by the end of August.

The new Boeing, which is the same type as Inkwazi, is expected to be a second-hand model available at the “bargain price” of R600?million.

Air force spokesperson Brigadier General Marthie Visser confirmed to City Press’ sister paper, Rapport, that the air force was compelled to find an interim solution to supplement its VIP fleet.

The additional Boeing Business Jet, as well as two more Falcon 900 jets, would cost about R2?billion.

A senior government official said the new planes were needed because “the president’s international obligations have increased dramatically”.

“The plane he has to use is old; it was used by former president Thabo Mbeki, and it has experienced technical difficulties,” he said.

Visser said South Africa’s international relations duties and obligations had increased dramatically, and it was the air force’s duty to have VIP aircraft available. In the past few years, she said, it had often been necessary to hire aircraft if one of the jets was out of action.

A mini audit conducted by City Press of local and international trips over the past two years – for which he would have used the presidential jet – shows that Zuma has been abroad on more than 80 occasions.

Zuma has undertaken 37 international trips and 49 local trips since April 2013.

His deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, has been on 25 international trips, 14 of which were to Lesotho, as well as 21 local trips over the past eight months.

Aviation expert Linden Birns said the R600?million price tag on the president’s new Boeing Business Jet was “about half the price of buying a new one” – depending on the specifications.

“Inkwazi is not an old plane and being a VIP jet, would not have had many hours on it compared to an airliner,” Birns said.

The Falcon 900s, which were small business jets, were similar to the ones Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa had used, he said.

According to Boeing’s website, the interior of the business jet is most often configured into four compartments, aside from the rest area reserved for the crew. The four areas consist of a VIP bedroom, lounge, boardroom, office and two bathrooms with showers.

Boeing 737 Business Jet interior

Visser said that, among the approaches being considered to gain access to funding to buy these “interim” jets, was the idea of moving money into the department of defence’s master plan covering strategic capital acquisition.

However, this plan’s budget was meant for other equipment in the defence force, including new transport aircraft for the movement of troops and equipment.

The last time the purchase of a new presidential Boeing was discussed in Parliament was when Dr Sam Gulube, the secretary of defence, replied to written questions from the portfolio committee on defence in July last year. He confirmed that the department was busy investigating considerations for additions to the VIP fleet.

At the time, he said no project for the purchases had been registered and it had also not been budgeted for.

Gulube described the issue as a “sensitive project” that had been moved to the strategic capital acquisition master plan.

Visser said the interim aircraft were needed while the air force searched for a long-term “ideal solution”.

It is understood the aircraft are being financed as “fleet expansions”, which apparently makes it easier to get financial approval for buying them. New aircraft are usually registered in terms of a project before Treasury gives its approval.

Questions were raised this past week by senior officers in the air force about how the jets were being acquired. No input was requested from the squadron that is expected to fly and maintain the aircraft.

An air force officer, who asked not to be named, said: “Before a second-hand aircraft is purchased, it is essential to study its service record to determine at what stage of its life cycle it is.

“This kind of jet must go for major overhaul every four years, which could cost up to R10?million if an engine has to be replaced, or something like that.

“Many owners therefore sell the jets just before such an overhaul is due. It may therefore look like a bargain on paper, but not if you have to have such an overhaul done soon.”

Military analyst Helmoed Römer Heitman said the department of defence should have opted for a bigger aircraft than the Boeing Business Jet, because this was like buying an SUV when what you needed was a bus.

“If we want to play a serious regional role, we need an aircraft that can take a minister with advisers, plus a close protection team, plus a protection team for the aircraft, plus a release crew for the aircraft, plus some secure signal equipment,” he said.

He said an A330 or Boeing 767, or the bigger 777 would have better matched the job requirements.

Talk to us: Is it justifiable to spend R2bn on presidential jets? What do you think the money should be spent on?

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