The Boeing BBJ presidential jet has returned to South Africa after undergoing maintenance in Europe for the past three months. Named Inkwazi (Fish Eagle) with registration ZS-RSA, the Boeing Business Jet has been used to transport South African presidents since late 2002.
Arriving back at the Waterkloof Air Force base on the evening of December 21, the aircraft had been undergoing a major scheduled inspection, known as a “C-Check”, by Jet Aviation of Basel, Switzerland. This company also installed the original VIP interior and painted the aircraft prior to delivery.
Although the BBJ is based on the Boeing 737NG airframe, similar to that used by SAA and other airlines, it was more cost-effective to have the maintenance performed in Europe than in South Africa, as the “C-Check” on a BBJ takes longer than that performed on a Boeing 737 configured for airline service. This is because the BBJ has a custom-built interior that takes more time to disassemble and re-assemble.
Writing on an aviation forum, a former air force officer said that “the ‘C-Check’ can be done by any Boeing certified Aviation Maintenance Organisation (AMO), but the combination of the OEM of the custom-built interior also being a Boeing certified AMO, will always be a better option. It should also be remembered that the numerous differences between a BBJ and a commercial Boeing 737 lies not only in the interior,” the officer continued. “The fuel system, avionics bay, cargo hold, plumbing system, waste management systems to name a few, are almost custom build per tail number.”
The return to service of the aircraft will be a great relief to the SAAF as well as those responsible for the President’s travel arrangements. Civilian aircraft have had to be chartered for the transport of the President and other VIPs. However, mechanical problems on the chartered aircraft led to a number of diversions and precautionary landings.
This, together with delays in the procurement of additional VIP aircraft, led to the resignation of Secretary for Defence Mpumi Mpofu. Although the Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano, also tendered his resignation, this was not accepted by Minister of Defence Lindiwe Sisulu.
The tender to purchase and/or lease additional VIP aircraft has yet to be issued as the airforce was still in the process of refining the requirements.