Sunday 8 December 2019

Military chiefs want State to purchase €40m jet

The Government jet at Baldonnel.
The Government jet at Baldonnel.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.
John Downing

John Downing

THE Government is being urged to buy a multi-purpose ministerial jet costing about €40m which also could be used for humanitarian missions, air ambulance flights and other work.

The call is made in a document circulating in military circles and which frames a set of compelling arguments that, along with providing transport for government ministers and officials, a special adaptable jet could become a considerable national asset.

The study, seen by the Irish Independent, also argues that the current aeroplane has been used on occasion for such work with some success.

The existing 23-year-old Gulfstream IV government jet has been grounded at a US air base for the past five weeks.

A routine maintenance overhaul revealed serious problems with the undercarriage and the wisdom of paying a €4m repair bill is being questioned and weighed against a potential €40m spend on a new plane.

The military document guardedly alludes to the recurring loaded public debate on the government jet but stresses the benefits of providing a multi-purpose plane with wide-ranging uses. The suggestion could prove attractive to a cabinet trying to decide their next move ahead of an election due in spring 2016 at the latest.

"Unfortunately, the narrative in public discourse does not emphasise the aircraft's important military roles, leading to criticism and the characterisation of the aircraft as an indulgence, rather than an important State resource acting in the service of citizens," the report states.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney is due to bring a report to Government on the issue.

In the past the officials have not favoured the idea of a multi-purpose plane, which was also mooted about 10 years ago.

The military document states that the current government jet was not originally intended for other uses. But it has done emergency missions on several notable occasions.

In October 2009 it was used to fly aid worker Sharon Commins from Darfur in Africa to Ireland after the end of a kidnapping ordeal which lasted several weeks,

In February 2011 it was used to airlift five Irish citizens out of Libya as the Ghadafi regime fell and chaos reigned.

One source has told the Irish Independent that the Lear is a very powerful jet capable of getting to most places in the world within 12 hours and its military classification gives great flexibility in relation to international flight regulations and air insurance.

The Gulfstream's absence at present reduces the Air Corps aircraft complement, which includes a smaller Learjet and two fishery surveillance aircraft.

The full range of recommended other uses includes: emergency air ambulance missions; re-supply of Irish peacekeepers in difficult situations; evacuation of injured peacekeepers; evacuation of civilians in perilous situations; and many other urgent situations which may arise.

The document suggests a variant of the Gulfstream IV, called the 'Multirole', currenty used by the US Marines for such work.

Irish Independent

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