Few pilots left to fly nation’s VIPs

2013-10-10 00:00

THE air force’s VIP squadron, which is tasked with transporting the nation’s top political leaders, stands to lose at least eight of its pilots.

Two of the pilots are going on pension, three have accepted better-paying jobs, one pilot’s contract will end and one pilot has medical problems that may prevent him from flying.

The vacancies created by these senior officers have also prevented junior pilots from flying and led to the air force paying astronomical sums to lure pilots back.

Sister paper Beeld has learned that at least two pilots who had resigned from the air force for jobs in the private sector, are in negotiations with the air force to return for better salaries.

Pilots say this will lead to more resignations when pilots who are currently in the system suddenly earn less than returning pilots.

21 Squadron at the Waterkloof air force base operates the presidency’s business jet, which is reserved for President Jacob Zuma’s use, as well as two Falcon 50s and a Falcon 900, which is reserved for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The squadron also operates Citation jets to give its more junior pilots enough flying hours to graduate to the larger aircraft.

The Citations are currently being upgraded, which means the juniors cannot fly enough hours. With eight pilots leaving, only one officer remains who can fly the two Falcon 50s.

The squadron now has only two officers to fly the planes reserved for Zuma or Motlanthe.

The spokesperson for 21 Squadron, Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga, said the challenges faced by the squadron are similar to what most other squadrons are experiencing and were part of the normal progression of pilots who move to better-paying jobs or retire.

Mabanga said the private sector was constantly poaching military pilots, which added to the current constraints imposed by limited budgets.

“There are several processes to try and retain pilots and other specialists, which included rotating pilots from other squadrons,” Mabanga said.

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