President Emmerson Mnangagwa has taken delivery of a US$54 million presidential jet – a Dassault Falcon 7X, ZimLive can reveal.
The aircraft was delivered in March, but it was not put into service until this week after Mnangagwa’s government came under international spotlight following Al Jazeera’s broadcast of a four-part investigation into massive gold smuggling and money laundering linked to associates of the Zanu PF leader and his wife, Auxillia.
The jet, bearing the registration P4-SIM, appears brand new. Its first known flight, according to tracking service FlightRadar24, was a flight from Paris in France to Johannesburg, South Africa, on March 1. FlightRadar24 identifies it with the International Civil Aviation Organisation code FA7X, short for Falcon 7X.
Mnangagwa used the aircraft for a flight to Victoria Falls on Wednesday where he hosted the Transform Africa Summit attended by four other African leaders, including King Mswati III of Eswatini who flew in on his Airbus A340-300, reportedly purchased second hand for US$30 million in 2015.
The 80-year-old again flew on the aircraft to Bulawayo on Friday, while King Mswati – who was guest of honour at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair underway in the city – swapped his Airbus for an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737.
As exclusively reported by ZimLive in October last year, treasury officials were reportedly concerned by the huge bill for chartering aircraft for the globe-trotting Mnangagwa, sometimes shelling out over US$1 million on a single overseas trip.
Unlike his predecessor Robert Mugabe who almost exclusively travelled on state airline Air Zimbabwe’s ageing planes, Mnangagwa’s presidency has seen him fly private jets hired from Azerbaijan, United Arab Emirates and Switzerland – including in 2019 when an Airbus 318-112(CJ) Elite flew eight hours from Dubai to take him on the 30-minute trip to Gweru for a graduation ceremony.
A source told ZimLive: “The aircraft arrived in early March and initially landed at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport. It was subsequently flown to the Air Force of Zimbabwe’s Manyame Airbase where it is being kept.”
The private jet was not budgeted for in the previous or current financial year, and its acquisition remains shrouded in mystery.
Asked if the jet was Mnangagwa’s private aircraft, or if the taxpayer was carrying the bill, presidential spokesman George Charamba shot back: “Is the presidency private?”
He bristled when asked further to justify the government splashing on a private jet for the president when hospitals are without basic drugs and equipment, among a litany of Zimbabwe’s social and economic ills.
He quipped: “Why do we have costly newspapers, online news, bars, restaurants and industries when hospitals are poorly equipped?”
The Dassault Falcon 7X is manufactured by Dassault Aviation, a French manufacturer of military aircraft and business jets.
The business jet has a large-cabin and a range of 5,950 nautical miles (11,020 km) – it can fly from Harare to London non-stop.
It made its first flight in March 2005 and has a typical configuration for 12 passengers, although other floor plans can accommodate up to 19.
Luxury travel and aviation website Sherpa Report says the list price of a new Falcon 7X “is currently about US$54 million.”
The total annual budget for flying a Falcon 7X private jet 200 hours per year is approximately US$1,434,621 or US$2,214,097 for flying 400 hours per year, according to Liberty Jet Management. The data suggests Zimbabwean taxpayers will fork out at least US$2 million annually to keep the jet flying.
Meanwhile, ZimLive sources say Mnangagwa has also approved the acquisition of four “VIP transport helicopters”. It is not known who will use the helicopters, but the purchase’s timing just before general elections expected in August suggests they will be used by top government officials to criss-cross the country on campaign stops. *ZimLive*