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Cowen's jet made two return trips for climate summit

THE government jet made two return trips to bring Taoiseach Brian Cowen to the most high-profile environmental event of 2009.

The Taoiseach joined world leaders last month as they gathered in Copenhagen in an attempt to broker a deal to tackle climate change.

Yet the carbon footprint for the trip mounted as the aircraft was not allowed park overnight due to the heavy influx of air traffic into the Danish airport for the event.

Some of the private jets bringing in VIP guests flew to closer regional airports in Denmark, Sweden and Germany to park overnight because of the volume of traffic.

But in the case of the Gulfstream IV, it returned to Baldonnel airport, only to fly back to Copenhagen to bring Mr Cowen home to Dublin two days later.

The jet -- which costs €4,050 per hour to run -- clocked up almost 2,000 air miles, amounting to a bill of more than €16,000.

Mr Cowen's cabinet colleague Environment Minister John Gormley -- who declines to use the government jet as it is not environmentally friendly and owing to high costs -- flew out to Copenhagen on a regular commercial flight.

A spokeswoman for the Taoiseach explained Mr Cowen stayed for two nights at the event, but the aircraft was unable to remain due to airport restrictions.

But Fine Gael said the use of the Gulfstream seemed "over the top" for the climate change summit, as there were several connecting flights to Copenhagen.

"It seems his carbon footprint would be an example of how not to travel to an environmental summit concerned about emissions," Fine Gael transport spokesman Fergus O'Dowd said.

Meanwhile, there has been a cost-cutting effort to reduce the number of times the Air Corps craft and helicopters are called upon to ferry ministers and senior staff to events.

In many cases, departments have turned to commercial flights for essential events rather than the 'VIP' ministerial option.

Internal government memos for the Department of the Taoiseach show dramatic cuts to spending on foreign travel -- with Mr Cowen refusing to take first-class flights last year for a trade mission to Japan in a bid to slash costs.


Last year the total bill for ministerial travel by jet and helicopter amounted to €1.164m, compared to €1.8m in 2008.

Globetrotting ministers and civil servants clocked up almost 200,000 air miles aboard the Lear and Gulfstream jets last year. The number of hours notched up aboard the three main aircraft dropped to 437 hours last year, down from 677 in 2008, according to Department of Defence figures.

It was understandably the Foreign Affairs Minister who clocked up the most time aboard the military craft -- spending more than 151 hours airborne and travelling more than 70,000 air miles.

Irish Independent