JZ’s new jet op­tions

Cur­rently un­der re­view by Arm­scor are SAA’s Air­bus A340 and A350, and Boe­ing Busi­ness Jet, but all have pro­hib­i­tively high VIP con­ver­sion and run­ning costs

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

An SAA plane is one of the op­tions for a sec­ond pres­i­den­tial jet, which is now be­ing con­sid­ered by Arm­scor. One of the SAA Air­bus A340-600s, which needs to be re­placed amid an on­go­ing bat­tle with Air­bus, has been ear­marked as an al­ter­na­tive for the pres­i­dent at a “bar­gain price” of $25 mil­lion (R397 mil­lion).

How­ever, this price does not in­clude costs to con­vert the cabin to meet the lux­ury spec­i­fi­ca­tions which Arm­scor out­lined for the sec­ond pres­i­den­tial jet.

The clash be­tween SAA and its chair, Dudu Myeni, with Trea­sury over how the trans­ac­tion with Air­bus should be con­ducted played a key role in the dis­missal of fi­nance min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene this week. Nene did not want to ap­prove Myeni’s in­sis­tence on a lo­cal em­pow­er­ment part­ner in the deal.

If Arm­scor bought one of SAA’s old air­planes for Zuma’s use in­stead of the much more ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive, at least some money would flow to SAA’s cof­fers.

A sec­ond Boe­ing Busi­ness Jet, in ad­di­tion to Zuma’s Inkwazi, will be rented as an in­terim air­plane un­til a more per­ma­nent jet can be ac­quired.

Arm­scor an­nounced last month that a new jet would have to be bought by April 1. Re­quests for in­for­ma­tion closed on Novem­ber 20 and are now be­ing re­viewed by the project team.

Arm­scor CEO Kevin Wake­ford said a fi­nal short list should be drawn up by mid-Jan­uary.

On the list of op­tions sub­mit­ted is the Dream­liner, a brand new Boe­ing 787.

It will, how­ever, only be avail­able by 2020 with a VIP cabin. The price of this plane with a VIP in­te­rior is R6.8 bil­lion.

Another two Air­bus jets – a busi­ness jet and an A350 – have also been of­fered but ap­par­ently don’t meet the set re­quire­ments.

The re­quire­ments in­clude that the jet should be able to fly di­rectly to New York or Moscow (about 13 000km). It also has to com­fort­ably trans­port 30 pas­sen­gers.

One of the rea­sons SAA wants to get rid of the A340 is be­cause it has be­come too costly to use. This air­plane will be about 10 times more ex­pen­sive in fuel and main­te­nance costs than Inkwazi, ac­cord­ing to well-placed sources in the air force.

Another prob­lem is the lack of qual­i­fied flight crew in the air force. A sec­ond Boe­ing Busi­ness Jet means that 21 squadron, with only three cap­tains, will have to op­er­ate two Boe­ing Busi­ness Jets, a Fal­con 900 and two Fal­con 50s. Re­tired Ma­jor Gen­eral Tsoku Khu­malo, who set up the air force’s op­er­a­tional needs for VIP air­planes, says it makes no sense to buy an A340 jet when Inkwazi is not be­ing used op­ti­mally.

Its us­age is roughly 450 hours a year, com­pared with the global av­er­age of 800 hours.

“If it is only go­ing to be used for Zuma, it will mostly be grounded and only be used a few times a year to fly abroad. The air force said a while ago that an air­craft which can oth­er­wise be op­er­a­tional for the trans­port of troops would make more sense,” he said.

“What’s go­ing to hap­pen when the next pres­i­dent is not in­ter­ested in an­other lux­ury jet? Then the air force will be stuck with a very ex­pen­sive white ele­phant.”

Dr Paul Pot­gi­eter of Aero­sud, which builds com­po­nents for Air­bus and Boe­ing, said of the pos­si­bil­ity of buy­ing an SAA plane: “Arm­scor should be care­ful not to pay a small amount of money now, only to have to pay more in fu­ture.”

Con­vert­ing the jet’s cabin to a VIP con­fig­u­ra­tion, which is set to in­clude a bed­room, con­fer­ence room, of­fices and first­class seat­ing, could eas­ily be two to four times the orig­i­nal pur­chase price of the A340, he said.

City Press’ sis­ter news­pa­per, Rap­port, learnt that the con­ver­sion would pos­si­bly be done lo­cally. How­ever, a con­ver­sion of this na­ture was sub­ject to cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, which could be prob­lem­atic if a lo­cal part­ner was used for the job in­stead of an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised spe­cial­ist, Pot­gi­eter said.

– Rap­port

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