The undertaking by SAA to provide aircraft for President Cyril Ramaphosa and his deputy, David Mabuza, is costing the air force a fortune.
Rapport has learnt that it cost the air force R1.5 million for a single return flight between Cape Town and Johannesburg on June 21, using an airline jet that could easily have transported 316 passengers. But on this flight, as on other similar flights, there has never been more than 20 or 30 people on board, a senior SAA official said.
The jets are leased when there are no commercial flights available for Ramaphosa to take. In contrast, aviation experts say the cost of leasing a private jet for between 20 and 30 people for a return flight between Cape Town and Johannesburg would be about R350 000.
Rapport has seen the invoices from SAA that show that using SAA aircraft has cost the air force R50m in four months.
Sources said the air force was battling to get its own VIP fleet serviceable again so it could resume its function of presidential and other VIP transportation.
According to estimates, a recent flight to Canada, where Ramaphosa attended the G7 summit, cost between R7m and R10m.
Air force officers responsible for handling the payments to SAA said the arrangement was also causing problems with their accounting systems, as the payments are not made according to prescribed regulations.
SAA simply provides a letter with the prices for specific flights. There are no comparative quotations, which Treasury regulations require. In addition, SAA does not provide an itemised account that sets out how the final price was calculated.
Ramaphosa has previously said he would only fly SAA or on an air force plane – not on a leased aircraft that would benefit a private company. This was after a jet owned by controversial businessman Zunaid Moti, who is wanted by Interpol, was leased to transport Ramaphosa on his first official trip to Botswana.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, said he tries to use the least expensive available air travel as a matter of principle. Where commercial flights are not available on a specific route, it is the responsibility of the air force to find an alternative.
Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said the air force would pay for all VIP flights until a new tender had been finalised.