Monday 20 November 2017

'We're well shot of government jet' - Fianna Fáíl TD tells committee

Fianna Fáil's Shane Cassells
Fianna Fáil's Shane Cassells
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

THE former government jet was plagued by breakdowns and "we are well shot of it", a Fianna Fáil TD has claimed.

Shane Cassells outlined a litany of breakdowns suffered by the Gulfstream IV jet and joked that if US President Donald Trump is selling Air Force One, "we might avail of this at a knock-down price".

The Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is probing the sale of one of the government jets, after a Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) report indicated it was it was disposed of for more than €300,000 less than its estimated worth.

The plane was in service since 1992.

Mr Cassells said that in preparing for the committee hearing he examined all the times it broke down. He said it broke down before leaving for Paris just five years after it was bought, leaving then Taoiseach John Bruton on the tarmac. On another occasion it blocked Air Force One on a runway, he said.

Mr Cassells wished the new owners of the aircraft well, but said: "we are well shot of it".

He noted plans in the US to replace Air Force One and quipped: "perhaps we might avail of this at a knock-down price."

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell asked the secretary general of the Defence Department, Maurice Quinn, if there was a higher than normal rate of breakdown with the jet.

Mr Quinn replied: "Not to my knowledge. But when it happened it was high profile."

Under questioning from Labour's Alan Kelly, Mr Quinn earlier confirmed that there was just one bidder for the aircraft.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane criticised the sale process and told the committee that the aircraft has been put back in service by a private operator in the US and has been insured to the value of $5m.

Fine Gael TD Noel Rock later argued that the government saved money from the sale given the repair costs that would have been incurred had the aircraft been retained and kept in service.

The C&AG’s report said an informal valuation estimated the aircraft’s worth as below €750,000. It was sold in 2015 for €418,000. Spare parts - later sold for €53,000 - were previously valued at more than €400,000.

In his opening statement Mr Quinn insisted he was "satisfied with the value achieved in the sale of the aircraft and spares, given the policy parameters set and the exceptional circumstances involved."

He told the committee that a €2.5m overhaul of the engines would have been required by 2018/2019.

The government had only approved general maintenance costs of €400,000 a year.

Other repairs needed in 2014 would have come to €1.34m meaning "disposal for salvage was considered to be the only viable option", Mr Quinn said.

He also pointed out that there were depressed conditions in the executive jet market at the time.

Mr Quinn added that: "The approach to disposal of the aircraft was necessarily heavily constrained by the circumstances whereby the aircraft was in a stripped down state in Gulfstream’s facility in Savannah, Georgia in the US."

Due to security arrangements at the facility prospective buyers would not have been allowed view the aircraft on the premises.

Gulfstream suggested a buyer to the government and the aircraft was ultimately sold for €418,000.

Mr Quinn insisted: "Our priority at all times is the best use of the funds available and application of these to provide necessary defence capabilities having regard to Government policy, business requirements and safety considerations."

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