Po­lice min­is­ter’s hi-tech busi­ness jet not suited to land­ing on ‘small streets’, avi­a­tion ex­perts say

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - XOLANI MBANJWA

CIVIL avi­a­tion ex­perts have re­futed Po­lice Min­is­ter Nathi Mthethwa’s claims that the po­lice’s new R150 mil­lion jet can land on small streets, and other po­lice of­fi­cials say the force has other air­craft which can per­form the same tasks.

Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity spokesman Ka­belo Ledwaba said the new jet was con­sid­ered to be a “large” air­craft and was al­lowed to land any­where for op­er­a­tional rea­sons “pro­vided that there’s a stretch that is long enough and that ob­sta­cles do not ex­ist on the sides of the road”.

“In this case ‘a stretch of high­way’ will be ideal,” said Ledwaba.

Other ex­perts claim the Cessna Ci­ta­tion Sov­er­eign jet could only land on tarred run­ways of 1km or longer, and that there were only about 30 such airstrips in the coun­try.

A re­tired SA Air Force colonel said the jet, of which there are only three in the coun­try, “is de­signed to fly cor­po­rate rich peo­ple from good­sized air­ports”.

“If you wanted a good air­craft in to­day’s mar­ket you could get one that does ev­ery­thing the SAPS needs for a third of the price,” said the colonel, who re­fused to be named.

Mthethwa’s spokes­woman, Nonku­l­uleko Mbatha, re­peated her boss’s in­sis­tence that it was nec­es­sary to buy the jet be­cause it could land on small streets and “shorter airstrips”.

But a for mer mil­i­tary hostage res­cue unit mem­ber said it would be “ex­tremely danger­ous” to land the jet on a gravel run­way.

“This air­craft can only land and take off from tarred run- ways of at least 1 069 me­tres,” he said, echo­ing his for­mer col­league’s as­ser­tion that in most places in the coun­try the so­phis­ti­cated air­craft would be un­able to land.

He said the jet, with its max­i­mum ca­pac­ity of nine pas­sen­gers, could not carry the “nec­es­sary” num­ber of po­lice nor­mally re­quired for hostage res­cue op­er­a­tions.

The cheaper Oryx he­li­copters used by the SA Na­tional De­fence Force would have been “suit­able” for the tasks.

How­ever, an avi­a­tion con­sul­tant cau­tioned against the crit­i­cism of pur­chas­ing the jet.

“… R150 mil­lion is not an un­rea­son­able price to pay for a jet of that kind. It is a fea­si­ble and prac­ti­cal busi­ness jet,” said the for­mer air force pi­lot.

But he added po­lice could have opted for other cheaper Lear­jet mod­els that could be used for the same pur­poses.

Mthethwa last week said it was nec­es­sary to buy the jet for “op­er­a­tional pur­poses”, a move fiercely crit­i­cised by op­po­si­tion par­ties.

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