As confusion reigns over the true cost on King Mswati III second private jet, confidential figures suggest his present plane may have cost Swaziland at least US$15 million to operate since he received it in 2012.
The modified McDonnel Douglas DC-9-87 jet, also known as an MD-87, cost US$9.5 million in 2012 and at least another US$4.1 million was spent on refurbishments before the King took delivery.
In 2012, the King's company Inchatsavane signed an aircraft management operating agreement with Greek-based Gain Jet Aviation. As part of the deal the King was required to deposit US$500,000, described as 'average two months operating costs' to guarantee future payments. On this basis the operating costs of the aircraft would be US$250,000 per month or US$3 million per year. In the five years since the jet has been flying, the operating costs would have reached US$15 million.
The figure set by Gain Jet Aviation was only an estimate. Another estimate of costs of operating an MD-87 is available from Conklin and de Decker, Aviation Information.
It has set the total fixed cost of the MD-87 at US$1,124,525 for a year. This works out at US$93,710 per month.
Fixed costs are the costs that have to be paid even if the plane never flies. Among the fixed costs it lists are salaries for the pilot, the co-pilot and the flight attendant.
Conklin and de Decker set the variable costs at US$9,736.20 per hour.
Variable costs include fuel, maintenance, landing charges at airports, staff expenses and catering.
The US$250,000 per month or US$9,736.20 per hour anticipated for operating costs might be underestimates for the true cost of flying King Mswati's jet.
Gain Jet Aviation invoiced the Swaziland Ministry of Foreign Affairs US$312,500 for a flight in June 2012 from Tokyo (Japan), to Manzini (Swaziland). The flight was spread over two days and included fuel stops in Danang (Vietnam), Male (Maldives), and Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania). The total flying time for the journey was 20 hours 50 minutes.
The company billed for a total of US$312,500, which works out at about US$14,880 per hour.
In August 2014, Gain Jet Aviation invoiced for a trip that was going to take place the following month over 14 days from Swaziland - Tanzania - Maldives - Malaysia - India - Egypt - Nice (France) - Cameroon - Swaziland. The total estimated number of flying hours was 39 hours 35 minutes.
The invoice total was for US$593,750.00, which works out at about US$14,843 per hour.
It would be impossible to get figures for the true full cost of operating King Mswati's private jet. The King rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and he picks the Prime Minister, the Government and the kingdom's judges.
People who question his authority or advocate for multi-party democracy are jailed under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and / or the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act.
The US$15 million estimated to have been spent on the King's jet since 2012 is about E197 million in the kingdom's local currency. As a comparison, in the national budget announced in February 2017, E110 million was set aside for the impoverished kingdom's entire Regional Development Fund.
King Mswati is set to take delivery of a 15-year-old Airbus A340 early in 2018. Media reports in Swaziland of its cost have varied from US$12.6 million to US$22.5 million.