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
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.