Mr Dominic Nitiwul, the Minister of Defence, has said the time is ripe for the nation to acquire a new and befitting presidential jet.
This is because the current Falcon 900 EX-Easy aircraft, used by the President, was not fit for purpose.
Mr Nitiwul said this in response to an urgent question by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament (MP) for North Tongu, Mr Okudzeto Ablakwa, on the floor of Parliament yesterday on whether the presidential jet was in good condition and considered air-worthy.
He also sought to know if the defence minister considered it prudent the government expending 15,000 euros on chartered flight, and also whether it was prudent for Ghana to acquire new aircraft to aid foreign travels by very important persons including the President.
“The capacity of the current Falcon aircraft is far below that of Fokker 28 which flew very, very important persons of more than 25 passengers during the Acheampong, Akufo, Rawlings and Kufuor eras hence the urgent need for an appropriate aircraft which can carry better payload in terms of passengers of 70 to 100 people and to carry all their baggage without affecting the performance of the aircraft.
“Mr Speaker, it is interesting to note that the Armed Forces of Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Eswatini, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Uganda, Kenya, Congo (DR), Morocco, Equatorial Guinea, just to mention but a few, all have a Boeing or Airbus Jet of that capacity to serve as strategic Air lifts,” the minister said.
It was due to the state of the presidential jet that the minister justified the decision by the government to charter a private jet for President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to embark on a recent foreign travel to three countries in Europe and Africa recently.
He said the use of the G-KELT aircraft on May 16 this year to France, Belgium and South Africa and back to Ghana was mainly to ensure the safety of the President and his entourage.
According to him, the presidential jet – a Ghana Airforce Falcon Ex-Easy – could only carry 11 passengers minus the crew and it often had to do “undesirable refueling stops at unintended destinations” during long hauls, causing inconvenience to both the President and the host countries.
To avert such inconveniences, he said, the use of the chartered private jet was critical as the plane could carry more passengers and fly long distances without making stops to refuel.
“Yes, while Falcon Ex-Easy is serviceable and airworthy, the decision to travel particularly to long and multiple destinations such as the President travelling to France, Belgium and South Africa and back to Ghana, especially during the COVID era, would always require a larger capacity aircraft such as a Boeing Business jet (BBJ) or Airbus ACJ 319 not even when the Falcon is airworthy,” he said.
Mr Nitiwul said: “Very, very important persons (VVIPs) or Presidential travel is not about aircraft type or cost but it is all about the safety of the aircraft crew and passengers.”
He explained that it was more expensive not to have a Boeing Business Jet or an Airbus Jet, pointing out how Ghana had to spend over $50m over the last 10 years to airlift soldiers for peacekeeping missions alone.
“If the Air Force has a strategic lift, this amount would have been saved to the treasury,” he said.
Cancellation of aircraft order
Mr Nitiwul told the House that the Ghana Airforce, for a long time, had asked for the re-equipping of the Communication Squadron to enable it to perform its functions effectively.
He said former President John Agyekum Kufuor heard that plea and decided to acquire for the Air Force, a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) and a Falcon 900 Ex-Easy Jet.
He said the BBJ jet, which could carry over 100 passengers and about 40 passengers on VVIP setting, was intended for long haul journeys and to also act as a strategic lift aircraft.
The minister said while the Falcon 900 Ex-Easy Jet was to serve as a backup to the BBJ and also to serve shorter routes but for some reasons, the BBJ order was cancelled by the new government in 2009, with the Falcon 900 EX-Easy being the only aircraft delivered in 2010.
He stated that currently, when the President used the Falcon 900 Ex-Easy Jet, most of the presidential staffers, security details and presidential press corp travelled commercial, with increased cost and its attendant delays.