By Dickson Jere

The longest trip we took on a Presidential Challenger Jet was to Brazil in 2010. We made three-stopovers to refuel.

Because we had to fuel to full-capacity, the usual Presidential close party had to be removed from the aircraft to reduce on weight.

So it was only President Rupiah Banda and myself, as two passengers, and the aide-de-camp on that 16 hour-long and punishing journey. Not the best way of moving a President.

In 2008, when some of us joined government, we found a position paper on the need to purchase a new presidential aircraft.

The document was first crafted by technocrats under President Frederick Chiluba government. And so, during our first few months in office, I was one of those taken on a test-flight by the Canadian aircraft manufacturer, Bombardier, who came to market the new plane (Challenger Global). It was what Zambia was looking for at that time – long haul machine – with bigger passenger capacity.

But due to some unforeseen issues, the transaction was never concluded. At that time, Rwanda and Botswana had just acquired similar machines for the presidential duties.

The Challenger aircraft 604 which was designed as “Zambia One” was not really suitable for presidential movements. It was small and could not take longer trips without stopovers for refuel.

Remember that whenever the Head of State makes a stopover, it means that security and protocol detail must be stationed there in advance.

This is costly too! We also tried,as a country, the option of chartering private aircrafts for the President but this too proved unsustainable and costly. Not forgetting putting the life of the President in the hands of foreign crew!

Another alternative to the Challenger, which has been used before, is to board commercial flights.

This is very inconveniencing for the Head of State. It is difficult to plan as flights can be delayed and entire presidential assignment disturbed.

Commercial flights can be canceled and affect the presidential movements.

This also entail making stopovers when going on long distance trips such as New York (UN General Assembly). Each stopover require security and protocol detail stationed in advance in those countries.

Sometimes, the flight bookings can be crazy and involve several stopovers. The President, in case of emergency, should be able to travel back at short notice from wherever he or she is than waiting for tickets to be changed or negotiating for available seats on commercial flights.

So, the need for a long haul aircraft, has always been a necessity.

What about sudden change of programs?

Zambia One must be able to make sudden U-turn when the final destination becomes hostile. For example, the President destined to country B must be able to change plan midair when suddenly war breaks out in that country.

This cannot be done with commercial flights that can be diverted to some other countries which may not be suitable for Zambia One.

The current debate is interesting. Zambia Air Force (ZAF), in an unprecedented statement, explained that the presidential plane cannot be sold.

I think that is besides the point. I think what we should be looking at is the cost-benefit analysis of having our own long haul aircraft Vs selling and getting back to commercial flights for our Head of State.

How much can we save from the two options? What are the security implications of the two options?

This is where we should focus the debate! As for me, based on my very little experience in the presidency, I would prefer whoever is Zambian President, to have a long haul aircraft for easy movements and safety.

It does not matter whether it is Gulf-stream, Challenger Global, Airbus or Boeing, so long as it can do the job.

Whether it is President Edgar Lungu, Hakainde Hichilema, Harry Kalaba, Sean Tembo or Chishimba Kambwili in office, they need to have such machine.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I do appreciate your contribution regarding this important issue. I would like to advise both the current administration and the opposition parties to discuss this matter above the TIT for TAT type of reasoning. Let’s put Zambia first.

    Two wrongs don’t correct a situation. It only worsens it. To start with there is need to establish the facts surrounding the procurement of the plane . Was it within the approved procedures? This needs to be officially verified and reported to the public through an official investigation.

    If it is discovered that the price was inflated, then the difference needs to be recovered and the culprits made to account for this crime. This is enough correction in it self. Why sell the plane, unless having it has no benefit for the country.

    In which case a cost benefit analysis between, using the plane or other Airlines can be considered and the best options taken. I do appreciate there are other suggestions including what has been highlighted in the article.

    Decisions of this magnitude, should not be limited to the lens of a political party. There is no shame in making a decision that benefits the nation. On the other hand if the expense of usage and security concerns of owning the plane out-weighs usage of other alternatives. Then it can be sold. I believe the security wings, Air Force and Defence forces can better advise on this. These are national issues not inter-party preferences. Let’s be careful here.

    I wish to state that UPND should be careful about responding to national issues through the lens of the party. Let the administration assisted by professional technocrats make the call from a professional point of view and the party should support these policy directions.

    Be advised there are other stakeholders whose voices need to be heard before impossing party views.” Very important” ..to borrow a phrase from His Excellency The President.

    As for opposition parties who want to push this agenda just to fix their opponents, be reminded that it is your responsibility to make meaningful suggestions regarding the bests solutions for Zambia.

    Let’s keep it. But deal with the mistakes made in procuring it , if there were any. Otherwise it’s time to swallow some pride and accept that selling the plane was extreme.

    Besides this, the inscription on the Plane reads Zambia Air Force not a political party.

    ZAMBIA FIRST.

  2. Here we are looking at costs. Is it cheaper to fly using our own plane and buying fuel plus the other expenses involved such as landing rights, protocols etc versus commercial flights. Just go for whatever is the cheaper option.

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