The South African Air Force (SAAF) will acquire a new VIP aircraft for presidential travel, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula affirmed on Tuesday, reported specialist news website Defenceweb. While this acquisition process is under way, an aircraft will be leased to provide an interim VIP capability.
Leasing, she asserted, was a cheaper option than chartering VIP aircraft, which is the current practice. The leased aircraft will be required for a minimum of 18 months, before the purchased aircraft comes into service.
“We are exploring all avenues when it comes to acquisition, including speaking to SAA [State-owned national carrier South African Airways],” she said. “That could see a suitable aircraft acquired without money being paid overseas. It would then be refitted and refurbished to the necessary specifications to make it suitable for accommodating our VVIPs and VIPs.”
Another source has suggested that it is likely that both the leased and the subsequently purchased aircraft will be Airbus A340 four-engined wide-body airliners currently belonging to SAA. The national airline is currently in severe financial straits and required a R5-billion going concern financial guarantee, which was announced on Friday. This is on top of previous financial guarantees given to SAA, which totalled R14.39-billion.
The Minister denied that the cost of acquiring a new VIP jet would be R4-billion. “[N]o figure was ever mentioned, somebody in the media just decided that was what it would cost”.
She also objected to people referring to the planned new VIP aircraft as if it would belong to President Jacob Zuma. “It is not an asset of the current President, just as [the current VIP jet, a Boeing BBJ named by the SAAF as] Inkwazi wasn’t a personal asset of former President Thabo Mbeki. It belongs to the South African National Defence Force and the SAAF operates it. When President Zuma leaves office the aircraft will remain at 21 Squadron and be used by South Africa’s next president.”