26/01: Old man, new toys
Posted by: Raja Petra
THE CORRIDORS OF POWER
Raja Petra Kamarudin
Question: What separates the men from the boys?
Answer: The price of their toys
When it was first announced that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would, after all, be appointed the Fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia, the entire nation breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, we all thought, Malaysia was going to see its first clean Prime Minister. Well, that is what we all thought at that time.
Hardly had he warmed his seat when we saw the other side of this descendent of an ulamak, the inventor of Islam Hadhari or ‘progressive Islam’. If there is a progressive Islam, then there must certainly be a regressive Islam, logic told us. “But what is progressive Islam as opposed to regressive Islam?” was what was on everyone’s lips. Even those shouting accolades to Islam Hadhari could not answer that. They only knew that since it was the Prime Minister who had invented it then it must be something good, though we do not know yet what it is and how good it is.
Today, the question seems to have answered itself. Abdullah, the perceived cleanest Prime Minister yet, has rapidly turned out to be the dirtiest ever. So that must be what Islam Hadhari is all about then.
We are appalled that Abdullah’s family has been awarded RM1.5 billion worth of government contracts — which he denied on national TV. We are appalled that Abdullah’s family has been implicated in the Oil-for-Food scandal — which he denied he is involved though he admits issuing and signing the letter that made this possible. We are appalled that Abdullah bribed each of the 191 Umno Division heads with RM3 million worth of Class F construction projects which cost the nation RM600 million — which they denied in Parliament. We are appalled that Abdullah bribed more than 400 delegates from Kubang Pasu to not vote for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad — which they denied in spite of the police reports made by those who received the bribes. We are appalled that those Kubang Pasu delegates who reported the matter were threatened — and one even beaten up in his home in front of his family. We are appalled that Abdullah is spending RM300 million a year on the Terengganu Monsoon Cup and hundereds of millions more on prestige projects in that state — awarded to his business partner, Patrick Lim, on a negotiated without tender basis.
Yes, the list goes on and on and they are all appalling.
Do you know that Abdullah has a 5 million house in Perth? Do you know he has a stable of luxury cars in London? Do you know, while Johor was suffering from floods and people were dying, he was in Perth officiating his brother’s restaurant? Do you know he ‘boycotted’ the Sarawak State election which cost them dearly? Do you know he is boycotting the Batu Talam by-election to ensure that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak does not get his more than 3,000-vote majority that he boasted he would get — which then can be a good excuse to drop Najib come the next general election?
Okay, even if all that still does not appal you enough yet, maybe this can. Do you know that Abdullah just bought his own jet, an Airbus A319, which you and I are paying for at a cost of more than US$60 million? The Airbus A319 is registered in the name of Penerbangan Malaysia. Now, I wonder how much more it is going to cost us to operate and maintain it every month.
A bit about Pak Lah’s latest toy
The Malaysian Government’s latest aircraft, believed to have been ordered in mid-2005, is being refurbished for VIP configuration at Switzerland’s premier aircraft maintenance facility, the Basel-based Jet Aviation. The A319 CJ (Corporate Jet) is the latest addition to the Malaysian Government’s VIP fleet, currently operated by the Royal Malaysian Air Force.
The current fleet in the VIP No. 2 Squadron RMAF Subang are:
1 Boeing Business Jet
1 Bombardier Global Express
1 Dassault Falcon 900B
1 Fokker F-28
Depending on which website one were to search, the new ACJ is listed as belonging to either the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) or, interestingly enough, Penerbangan Malaysia Berhad (PMB).
PMB is a company incorporated in July 2002 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Minister of Finance Inc. following the Widespread Asset Unbundling (WAU) restructuring of Malaysia Airlines (MAS). As a result of MAS’ restructuring in November 2002, PMB acquired the economic interest in all its aircraft and is leasing them back to the national airlines; and at the same time takes over ownership of the domestic operations. However, MAS continues to operate the domestic operations on behalf of PMB. In addition to that, PMB has taken over MAS’ long-term liabilities and presently holds 69.34% of its paid up capital. PMB is currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional Berhad.
The restructuring exercise marks a turning point in the airline’s history and has been described by analysts as a unique development in the industry, at least in Asia, creating the first ‘asset-light’ national carrier in the region. The core businesses of PMB includes, amongst others, the acquisition, sale and leasing of aircraft and aircraft engines, investment holding and ownership of the domestic airline business. Other than Malaysia Airlines, Aircraft Business Malaysia Sdn Bhd is also a subsidiary of PMB which concentrates in the acquisition, leasing, charter and sale of aircraft and aircraft engines.
Back to the ACJ, industry sources say a ‘naked’ aircraft could cost anywhere between US$40-US$45 million. If the outfitting and conversion to the VIP cost is included, then the final cost could balloon an additional US$10 million. Currently, the aircraft which carries the pre-customer delivery registration of D-AIDR — of which AI denotes that it still is under the responsibility of Airbus Industrie — is expected to be delivered in the next three to four months following completion of outfitting works in Basel, Switzerland.
According to a website dedicated to the sale of Airbus aircraft, the aircraft made its maiden flight out of Airbus Industrie’s factory in Hamburg, Germany, on 29 November 2006 and was sent for outfitting on 1 December 2006.
Rationalising the acquisition would be tricky indeed. Why would the Government need a second narrow body jetliner with a 140-odd seating capacity and limited range when it already has the BBJ to do the same job? Of course, in VIP configuration, the Government may have gone for a maximum of 40 passengers in a mix Business-class four-seat abreast with single aisle in the middle. But this configuration would limit the aircraft’s range.
The ACJ has the ability fly 12 passengers in a luxurious layout up to 6,000 nm/11,100 km, i.e. from Kuala Lumpur to London non-stop. But this requires auxiliary fuel tanks. With the limited number of passengers, it makes more sense for the Government to fly the current Bombardier Global Express which is known to be faster and will not incur the operator commercial airline charges as in the case of the ACJ when landing in foreign international airports.
The ACJ can also carry 40 passengers in exclusive comfort up to 4,500 nm/8,300 km i.e. Kuala Lumpur-Istanbul. But this range can also be met by the Government’s other VIP aircraft, the Boeing Business Jet which currently is configured to carry about 40 passengers in single-aisle four seat abreast as well as VIP seating arrangement.
As for long range, the current VIP Squadron already operates the 14-seater Bombardier Global Express, bought in 2001, which has maximum operating range of about 6,000nm. Depending on factors such as passenger load, weight etc, the Global Express, one of the latest and most advanced corporate jets in its class, is capable of flying from Kuala Lumpur to London direct. In Malaysia, it has been recorded to have flown from Langkawi to London direct as well as from London to Kuala Lumpur direct. Attempts at flying from Kuala-Lumpur to London have been hampered on a few occasions by weather — i.e. headwinds — which requires, more often than not, a technical refueling stop in Dubai. The advantage of the Global Express is also its ability to fly at higher altitudes of up to 51,000 feet, bypassing normal commercial airline passage of 45,000 feet. In the case of the ACJ, the maximum service ceiling is 41,000 feet.
If the Government had in mind the intention of replacing the ageing F-28, of which even the manufacturer Fokker aircraft VB of the Netherlands has now folded up, then it would have made more sense to acquire a second BBJ. That would at least create a fleet standardisation and reduce the logistical nightmare of having to keep different sets of spare parts and logistical records. However, it is also understood that, at the point of writing this piece, the Government has opted to maintain the aircraft under a civilian registration i.e. 9M…. This is a departure from previous practices where Government VIP aircraft are operated by the military and bear military registry — i.e. in the case of the BBJ, M53-01.
The other problem would of course be security. Since this latest jet is not under military but instead under civilian care, then security would become a nightmare for the agencies normally in charge of the Prime Minister’s security. The only possible logical explanation for this move at this point in time is that the current Abdullah Badawi administration does not intend to place the ACJ under the Government’s care. Instead, it is believed that a private company is believed to be the favoured operator with the Government in turn leasing the aircraft back from them. This mode of operation is provided for under Penerbangan Malaysia’s, as well as Aircraft Business Malaysia Sdn Bhd’s business charter – acquisition, sale and leasing of aircraft and aircraft engines.
The spacious 24 meter long cabin has a floor area of nearly 80m². The cabin layout can include executive suites, equipped offices and meeting rooms, a bedroom, a family living room or sitting room area and bath or shower room according to the needs of the individual client or corporate customer.
More than 70 ACJ have been ordered and over 30 have so far been delivered. It is operational with: launch customer Qatar Airways, based at Doha; EADS Deutschland GmbH in Stuttgart: Twinjet Aircraft with headquarters in Bedfordshire, UK; Aero Services in France; Al Kharafi group of Kuwait, DaimlerChrysler of Germany; Blue Moon in the US; PrivatAir of Switzerland; Air Luxor (Masterjet) of Portugal; Alpha Tours of Dubai; AZAL of Azerbaijan and with a number of other governments and private customers.
The ACJ is in service with the following governments: Italian Air Force (2), Venezuelan Air Force (2), French Air Force (2), United Arab Emirates (1), Royal Thai Air Force (1), Azerbaijan, Brazil and Qatar. In May 2004, National Air Services (NAS) of Saudi Arabia ordered two A319 Executive (an ACJ variant).
THE RM30 MILLION YATCH
THE TERENGGANU MONSOON CUP