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Sunday 21 January 2018

State to charter 'air taxi' service for official use

Don Lavery

A CHARTER "air taxi" service is to be hired by the Government to supplement "the government jet".

The new charter service is mainly needed to beef up the ministerial air transport service operated by the Air Corps during the busy EU Presidency which Ireland will hold during the first half of next year.

That service in fact uses two government jets, the elderly Gulfstream IV, which can carry 15 passengers on long distance routes overseas, and the short range Learjet 45, which can accommodate eight people.

The tender from the Department of Justice will have five airlines or charter companies in a framework agreement to use the service.

Among the services provided will be: flying illegal immigrants out of the country over the next four years; evacuating Irish citizens overseas in the event of natural disasters, civil disturbances, political unrest or otherwise; medical evacuation from a theatre of operations where Irish troops are based.

Just last week a very ill Irish soldier was evacuated from Beirut to Dublin using the Air Corps Learjet, which can be specially equipped as an air ambulance.

Ironically, the new thinking between the departments of Justice and Defence for the need for an aircraft to carry out roles as varied as transporting illegal immigrants out of the country and flying Irish troops abroad comes after successive governments cancelled plans which would have given the Air Corps that very capability.

The Defence Forces sought a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft more than 10 years ago at a cost of around €50m -- the aircraft is one of the most widely used in the world for military transport and in natural disasters.

However, one defence minister told this newspaper: "The f**king thing would be sitting on the tarmac 360 days a year."

During the boom the government proposed buying a large executive jet from €50m upwards -- either an Airbus Corporate Jetliner or Boeing Business Jet -- which would also have been able to transport troops, equipment or carry aid to disaster zones.

But that was cancelled and the Air Corps still lacks a dedicated transport aircraft.

Sunday Independent

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