Fact Check

Did South Africa's President Purchase the World's Most Expensive Aircraft?

A series of photographs purportedly showing a luxurious aircraft purchased by South African president Jacob Zuma are pictures of an unrelated airplane.

Published Apr 3, 2017

Image Via Wikimedia
President Zuma of South Africa purchased the world's most expensive plane.
What's True

Photographs show one of the world's most expensive passenger planes, a custom Boeing 747-8.

What's False

This plane was not purchased by South African president Jacob Zuma.

A series of photographs circulated online purportedly show a luxurious $400 million custom-built Boeing 747 that was purchased by South Africa president Jacob Zuma:

President Zuma, is the current leader of South Africa.

He has purchased the most expensive aircraft in the world for his own personal use and those of his hirelings and underlings. BOEING 747-8 for President Jacob Zuma

Welcome aboard the custom-built plane that makes Air Force One look like The Wright Brothers' first effort. These extraordinary images show an enormous jumbo jet that has been converted into a luxury home for ZUMA. Complete with bedrooms, multiple lounges and an on board restaurant.

The custom-built Boeing 747 is believed to have cost South African taxpayers $400million. Making it one of the most expensive purchases of all time. The jumbo jet would normally carry up to 600 passengers –but this version was built for just one insane man, although he will be able to fit dozens of guests.

The level of luxury is out of this world. The plane wouldn't look out of place on Cribs.

Of course cable television and Internet are among the perks. No need to fight for sofa space either, just the 14 TVs dotted about the vessel. More sleeping space is provided in the "aeroloft" on the top deck of the vessel, with eight double beds for passengers who prefer to get some shut-eye on flights.

You know it's good when your plane has a stateroom. Look out for this baby flying above you.

Does the United States of America provide aid to South Africa? Yup- over $571,000,000!

Does Canada provide aid to South Africa? Yup - over $120,000,000!

Enough to pay for this toy, with a little ($291,000,00) in change leftover. Isn't it heartwarming to see how our "Foreign Aid" is benefiting the underprivileged of other countries.

The above-reproduced message can be boiled down to two basic claims:

  1. The accompanying photographs show an airplane purchased by President Jacob Zuma.
  2. This $400 million Boeing 747-8 is the most expensive plane in the world.

Do the photographs show a plane owned by President Zuma? No.

These images do not show a plane owned by President Zuma. The picture showing the exterior of the plane was taken in December 2011 before a test flight of the aircraft for Lufthansa Airlines at the main airport in Frankfurt, Germany. The rest of the photographs capture a conceptual "VIP & Head of State" customized interior of a Boeing 747-8 VIP that was designed by luxury aviation designer Greenpoint Technologies, and these pictures have been circulating online since early 2015, more than a year before they were attached to President Zuma's name.

Is this the most expensive plane in the world? Maybe. Maybe not. It's certainly up there.

This plane was worth about $370 million before Greenpoint Technologies completed the interior refurbishment work. Although we have not been able to find the final price tag of the plane, it certainly does rank among the world's most expensive aircrafts. One luxury airplane that could give this Boeing 747-8 a run for its money is a custom Airbus 340 that was reportedly purchased by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov for an estimated $500 million.

Where did this rumor originate?

This rumor may have started as a simple misunderstanding. Zuma's presidential plane, a Boeing 737 called “Inkwazi,” was grounded several times due to mechanical problems, and the South African president requested a new luxury plane to replace it:

A private bedroom suite, a bathroom and a conference room for eight people on board. These are just some of the specifications for a brand-new presidential jet that Armscor, the defence force’s acquisitions agency, is planning to buy for President Jacob Zuma, which could cost as much as R4 billion.

Armscor officially announced the acquisition process on its website on Thursday with a request for information from people who may be able to supply the jet. The deadline is as early as November 20, which means information must be submitted by the time the Armscor acquisitions board meets next month.

Secretary for defence Sam Gulube confirmed that the department had asked Armscor to procure a VIP jet for Zuma. He said specific requirements were submitted to his office by the SA air force.

“We don’t know how much it’s going to cost. Any talk about cost of such a capability is unfounded, groundless and baseless. Armscor has requested information and will only know [about the cost] once that information is received.”

In 2015, web sites such as Business Tech published articles exploring "what Zuma’s R4 billion plane could look like" that included photographs of unrelated luxury jets and speculation about which planes (including the aforementioned Boeing 747-8 VIP) he might potentially purchase. As of this writing, however, we have not turned up any confirmation that Zuma has splurged on a new luxury jet.

In July 2016, Business Tech reported that Zuma had "ditched" his plan for a new jet and was leasing a plane for R2 million (about $150,000 USD). The Sunday Times reported in September 2016 that South Africa still had plans to purchase a new presidential plane for between R1-billion and R2.8-billion (between US$75 and $200 million).

President Zuma stirred up controversy in 2015 when he requested a new luxury plane, but these pictures do not depict a $400 million aircraft purchased by the South African president.


Rense.com.   "South African President Jacob Zuma's $400 MILLION BOEING 747-8."    . Retrieved 31 March 2017.

Huffington Post.   "Alisher Usmanov Private Jet: Russian Facebook Investor’s New Airbus A340 Could Cost $500 Million."     6 June 2012.

Jacinto, Leela.   "Abuse of Power: African Leaders and Their Flying Machines."    . France 24.   24 April 2016.

Gibson, Erica.   "R4 Billion VIP Jet for Zuma?"     City Press.   11 August 2015.

Business Tech.   "Zuma Ditches Presidential Plane for a Rental That Costs R2 Million a Month."     25 July 2016.

Hofstatter, Stephan.   "Zuma's R500m Backup Boeing Is on Its Way."     Sunday Times News.   11 September 2016.

Zhang, Benjamin.   "This 747 Private Jet Is a Palace in the Sky."     Business Insider.   2 April 2015.

Rich and Richer.   "10 Most Outrageously Expensive Private Jets."     4 May 2016.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.

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