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

CityPress - - News - ERIKA GIB­SON news@city­press.co.za

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.

PHOTO: FOTO24 PHOTO: ADRIAN MUNRO / RAP­PORT

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

PHOTO: DEAAN VIVIER

DE­FEN­SIVE De­fence Min­is­ter No­siviwe

Mapisa-Nqakula

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