Government perk under threat: Ageing state jet stuck in US
Irish Government faces bill for millions as plane grounded for the past five weeks
Published 02/09/2014 | 02:30
Our politicians are used to having their wings clipped at this stage.
After all, the denizens of Leinster House have suffered the ignominy of having to vote through cuts to their own pay and expenses in recent years, while most of our ministers have lost their garda drivers.
Now another perk is under threat: the government jet.
The Irish Independent has learned that the Government is faced with the prospect of having to replace one of its ministerial planes or spend substantial funds repairing the ageing aircraft.
The Gulfstream IV - one of two jets used for ministerial travel - has been grounded for the past five weeks after problems were discovered during routine maintenance in the US.
Officials say Defence Minister Simon Coveney is now set to bring a report to Cabinet on the issue.
The purchase of a similarly aged replacement would cost between €3m and €4.2m, while an upgrade to a more modern jet could cost up to €40m.
The jet has been used by successive governments over the past 23 years.
According to a Department of Defence spokeswoman, the Gulfstream IV was flown to the Gulf Aerospace Corporation in Georgia for scheduled annual maintenance on July 27.
"During the inspection issues were discovered with the undercarriage. The department is assessing the situation in consultation with Gulf Aerospace Corporation. The minister will bring a report to Government," she said.
A briefing document prepared for Mr Coveney by department officials shortly before the problems with the Gulfstream IV were discovered said no provision had been made for a replacement in the department's budget for 2014. "The aircraft is to remain in service for so long as routine maintenance is sufficient. If any costly non-routine maintenance or major structural repair is required to be carried out, the aircraft will be grounded and a decision on the future of the jet will be required," the briefing document said.
Over two decades of use, the aircraft has accumulated 13,170 flying hours.
According to the most recently available records, the cost of ministerial air transport from the time the Coalition came to power in March 2011 up to May of this year was €4.4m.
During that period 218 trips were made, 110 of which involved the Gulfstream IV. A second, smaller, government aircraft, a Learjet 45, made the rest of the journeys.
The average cost of running and using the Gulfstream IV is €3,790-an-hour, while the Learjet 45 costs €4,200-an-hour.
The most frequent users of the two aircraft in that time have been Taoiseach Enda Kenny and former Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore. Between them, they have amassed over 130 journeys. Finance Minister Michael Noonan, a frequent flier to Brussels, has used the jets over 50 times since taking office.
With a busy programme of EU and other international meetings and events set to kick off in the coming weeks, the Cabinet could do without the jet being grounded.
Unless the problem is resolved soon, some tricky decisions await the Department of the Taoiseach, which has the ultimate say on whether or not a minister can have use of a jet. There are bound to be clashes when two ministers seek the use of the remaining jet on the same day.