Backup plane used to shadow Zuma
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A backup plane was chartered to shadow President Jacob Zuma's jet during his recent visit to the US, the department of defence said on Thursday.
“There were two aircraft, but one of them turned back halfway and landed on a nearby island,” defence spokesman Ndhivuwo Mabaya said.
He said the plane was used as a backup in case Zuma's jet suffered a mechanical fault during the flight.
“The president's jet was out of circulation for three months while it had gone for a service. It is technically expected for the plane to accompany the president in case there was problem with the jet.”
Mabaya said the use of a backup plane was not uncommon and was used in similar circumstances around the world.
It was alleged in media reports on Thursday that the plane was seen in US airspace and that audio of it landing at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York last week, confirmed it flew using an SA Air Force call sign.
Mabaya denied that the plane had followed Zuma into the US.
“It stopped halfway because the jet was okay and it waited until the president came back to South Africa, in case something happened on the return journey,” he said.
The Business Day reported on Thursday that the Bombardier Global Express ZS-AMP was chartered by a private company to shadow Zuma's jet.
DA defence spokesman David Maynier told the newspaper the backup plane was unnecessary.
He said the use of a backup plane was not a common practice and it raised questions about why it was necessary to charter a plane if the air force had complete confidence in the jet.
The DA would submit questions to parliament over the cost of chartering the plane and whether Zuma's safety had been compromised during the flight.
Zuma was in the US ahead of South Africa assuming the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, which is based in New York. – Sapa