Cape Town - Plans to buy a new jet for President Jacob Zuma are in the “preliminary” stages, says Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and routine maintenance on the existing plane has cost upwards of R60 million.
The minister was responding to a parliamentary question from DA MP David Maynier, who had asked for information about how many aircraft would be bought, the budget, and the reason for their purchase.
In her response, the minister wrote that “the Department of Defence is planning to acquire the required VVIP aircraft capability subject to availability of funds. Plans are still at the preliminary stage.”
The current Boeing Business Jet named Inkwazi, was bought by then-president Thabo Mbeki in 2002 for R600m. Mapisa-Nqakula said that jet had completed 5 772.8 flying hours, and major routine maintenance checks or “c-checks” in 2008 and 2011 had cost a combined R61m.
The cabinet approved the acquisition of a new VVIP aircraft in November 2011, the minister told parliament during her budget vote earlier this year.
The national Treasury had approved the funding, and the aircraft could be purchased this financial year.
Mapisa-Nqakula told reporters the next day the purchase of the VVIP aircraft was urgent.
“We’re running out of time,” she said, indicating that her department was spending millions of rands on chartering flights for troops and VIPS.
Several incidents involving VVIP transport have made headlines for the wrong reasons.
Inkwazi had to turn back on its maiden flight in January 2003, making Mbeki late for a meeting in Paris when 200km into the flight, pilots heard a noise and turned back. Because the plane was full of fuel, it had to first circle for three hours before it could land safely. It was discovered that a flap which sealed the doors had malfunctioned. Although this was quickly fixed, a fuel intake valve malfunctioned before the flight could take off, spilling two tons of fuel on to the runway, which then needed to be cleared before take-off.
In 2009, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe had to make an emergency landing in the DRC after problems with his jet, and in 2011 emergency services were on stand-by for his landing in New Zealand after problems were experienced on the jet just before landing.