Plane drama sees millions extra spent to hire jets to get Zuma home

Pretoria - Millions of rands extra had to be spent to get President Jacob Zuma back to South Africa after an official visit to Moscow.

By late on Tuesday, it was still not clear when he would land at Waterkloof air force base.

The original itinerary had Zuma landing at Waterkloof just after 07:00.

The drama began this weekend when Zuma attended the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation.

Technical problem

Beeld understands that Inkwazi, his official jet, developed a minor technical problem with the long-distance fuel system. It was not critical and would have simply meant a second refuelling stop, after Ankara, Turkey, in Entebbe, Uganda.

However, this was not deemed acceptable, and a plane was hired. This aircraft, from Longtail Aviation registered in the Bahamas, left Dubai in the Gulf to pick the president up.

Because of safety restrictions on crew hours, the plane could only be on the ground for a short period in Moscow.

But for unknown reasons, Zuma was apparently not at the airport in this short window, and the crew had to leave to rest in a hotel, in accordance with international regulations.

The arrangements were then taken out of the hands of the air force and went forward with the help of the SA ambassador in Moscow.

Third aircraft

A third aircraft was then arranged to bring the president back to South Africa. It is not known to whom this aircraft belonged.

The hired Bahamas plane was sent back to Dubai, but the air force is still liable for the R2 million that the full flight to South Africa and back to Dubai would have cost.

Meanwhile, the air force jet left Moscow and as planned, stopped to refuel in Ankara and Entebbe. It was expected to land at Waterkloof before Zuma, despite the extra stop.

The air force, Defence Department and the Presidency on Tuesday repeatedly referred Beeld’s questions to each other for comment.

The Presidency had announced on Tuesday morning that Zuma would not be back in time to launch a Home Affairs service delivery programme. “The president will return to the country from Russia later than planned,” the statement said.

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