Why Cyril had to use a Gupta plane
With Zuma off to China this week and the air force’s pilot shortage, the number two plane was understaffed
The SA Air Force pays up to $30 000 (R400 000) per course for advanced training for its VIP pilots, but four of the six sessions it booked and paid for overseas were cancelled this year at the last minute. A senior air force officer involved in the training told City Press’ sister newspaper, Rapport, that the air force still had to pay for all forfeited bookings because the courses were booked and paid for a year in advance.
It is through training in flight simulators in the US that pilots earn their stripes as captains.
But bureaucratic red tape between the air force’s different departments has seen the training being turned down – because it is considered a nonessential “luxury”.
This is partly the reason 21 Squadron, the air force’s VIP squadron, had access to enough planes this past week, but not to enough captains to fly Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and a government delegation on an official trip to Japan.
A jet, owned by the Gupta family, had to be hired through aviation company ExecuJet. That plane belongs to Westdawn Investments, and President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane is one of its directors.
It is understood that 21 Squadron has only a few expert pilots on its books after some of them resigned or retired. Ironically, the two pilots who flew Ramaphosa to Japan were former air force pilots who had left for greener pastures.
The planes can be manned by a minimum of two flying crew – a captain and a co-pilot. The president is also flying to China this week and there had to be scandal that the air force was facing an ongoing problem when it came to training enough pilots.
South African pilots were therefore undergoing training in Cuba. A second group was on its way there. She was also negotiating with the Ethiopian Air Force for help in training more pilots. She denied that there was a problem with the approvals for advanced training.
According to the air force, she “signed off” several courses over this past week for final approval after the need for them reached critical levels.
To plug the advanced-training gap, the air force is also considering reopening its air-transport training school in Bloemfontein, which was closed years ago for cost-saving reasons.
According to Mapisa-Nqakula, it is essential that new planes be bought for the VIP squadron so that the air force does not have to hire planes.
Plans for this are to be executed in phases and she said she would seek Cabinet approval in due course.
IN NEED Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa had to charter the plane because there were no pilots available at 21 Squadron to fly his delegation to Japan OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS The plane owned by the Guptas’ Westdawn Investments, where President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane is a director
DEFENSIVE Defence Minister Nosiviwe