herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

State's hefty bill if grounded jet needs replacing

The governemt jet
The governemt jet

The Government's Gulfstream IV jet has been grounded in the US after developing a technical problem.

The aircraft - one of two used by the Cabinet for ministerial travel - is in Georgia where it had been undergoing routine maintenance.

The Government is now faced with a decision over whether to replace it or spend money on repairs.

The jet - which has clocked up 13,170 flying hours during 23 years of use by successive governments - is at the Gulf Aerospace Corporation.

It went there five weeks ago for its annual maintenance check.

Issues

Defence Minister Simon Coveney will now bring a report to Cabinet on the issue. A replacement jet could cost anything between €3m and €40m, depending on age.

The Department of Defence said the Gulfstream, which costs €3,790-an-hour to run, was flown to Georgia for scheduled maintenance on July 27.

A spokeswoman said the inspection identified "issues" with the aircraft's undercarriage.

"The department is assessing the situation in consultation with Gulf Aerospace Corporation," she said.

Previously, department officials had outlined how the jet would "remain in service for so long as routine maintenance is sufficient".

The report said if "costly non-routine" maintenance or repairs were needed, the aircraft would be grounded until a decision on its future was made.

Records show ministers made 218 trips on the two jets, at a cost of €4.4m, since the Coalition came to power in 2011.

Some 110 of those journeys were taken in the Gulfstream, with the second Government aircraft, a Learjet 45, accounting for the remainder.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, the former Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister, were the most frequent users of the jets.

Documents, prepared earlier this year for the Taoiseach, who assumed the role of Minister for Defence for a period following Alan Shatter's resignation, show there was no provision made in the 2014 Budget for the replacement of the Gulfstream.

In 2012, Mr Shatter said there were no plans to get rid of either the Gulfstream or Learjet planes.

This was despite his predecessor Tony Killeen, of Fianna Fail, saying funding shortages meant the Gulfstream would be phased out.

The two jets comprise the Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS).

Rescue

Responding to a parliamentary question two years ago from Michael Healy-Rae, Mr Shatter said the jets were not only used for ministerial travel, but were also deployed on air ambulance missions, humanitarian operations and support for search-and-rescue and mountain rescue operations.

"There are no plans at present to dispose of either aircraft, and ultimately any decision in this regard will be a matter for Government," he had said.

comurphy@herald.ie

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