One, two, three jets for Zuma?

2012-01-21 00:00

A THIRD aeroplane was hired at a cost of millions of rands to fly as back-up to President Jacob Zuma’s official plane on the way to New York last week.

This allegation was made by Democratic Alliance defence spokesperson David Maynier yesterday.

The fact that a second plane was hired as back-up was confirmed yesterday by Airforce chief Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano.

He was in a meeting last night and was not available to comment on the new allegation of a third plane.

This third plane, an SAA Airbus A340-211, took off with Inkwazi (the official plane) on the morning of January 9 and flew as far as the Gran Canaria airport in Las Palmas, Canary Islands.

Both planes were photographed at Las Palmas by plane spotters, and the photos posted online on January 10.

The Airbus waited at Las Palmas until Inkwazi reached the halfway point between the Canary Islands and New York, and then returned empty to South Africa, landing in the early morning of January 11.

Another plane, a Bombardier Global Express XRS, that flew all the way to New York with Zuma’s plane and then back again is apparently the shadow plane referred to by Gagiano yesterday.

Zuma went to New York to attend a session of the United Nations security council.

Maynier said according to his calculations, the whole three-plane trip must have cost taxpayers about R10 million. He demanded that Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu come clean with the facts about the flights.

On Thursday, Defence Ministry spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya denied Zuma’s VIP jet was shadowed to New York by another plane, and said that plane stopped in the Canary Islands, in case the official jet developed mechanical problems during the trip.

Yesterday, Gagiano ascribed the initial denial that a shadow plane went all the way to New York as a “misunderstanding” between him and Mabaya.

He said the shadow plane was sent because of recent technical problems with VIP flights that have left both Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in the lurch abroad.

“After the incident in Finland [when a plane chartered for Motlanthe broke down at the last minute forcing the cancellation of the visit] we decided to put certain procedures in place.

“[VIP transport is] extremely complex and important to the international image of the country.

“Who will make the speech if the president can’t make it?” Gagiano said at his official briefing yesterday.

Mabaya said the ministry reports to Parliament, not the public, and does not have to justify its actions.

“The funfair about the president’s plane must come to an end,” he said.

Maynier said the most cost-effective way of getting Zuma to New York would have been for him to fly on a scheduled SAA flight.

He said British Prime Minister David Cameron flies on British Airways. “What is wrong with Zuma’s national airline?” he said.

Sister paper Beeld learnt that three SAA pilots flew the Airbus to Las Palmas, and it was fully stocked with food to be used in case that was necessary.

At the same time, three stand-by pilots and 11 cabin crew flew on a commerical flight to Las Palmas via Frankfurt — also to be ready for any eventuality if the SAA flight had been needed to transport Zuma to New Yorks. On inquiry, SAA spokesperson Dileseng Koetle said the airline could not comment on the flight, and referred the query to the Defence Department.

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