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