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Government hired private jet despite availability of commercial flights

Private-jet travel is up to 14 times more polluting than commercial flights

By Conor O’Carroll

The government has hired private jets to transport the Taoiseach to foreign engagements and summits despite the availability of commercial options.

Over the past twelve months, hundreds of thousands of Euro has been spent hiring private jets due to the unreliability and unavailability of the Learjet.

In March, the Irish Times reported that the cost of these flights had surpassed €450,000, which included a two-day trip to the West Balkans in January by former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Tánaiste Micheál Martin’s trip to Israel in November, both of which cost in excess of €100,000.

However, updated figures released to Village show that since the start of 2023, almost €650,000 has been spent on hiring private jets, with at least three additional trips not recorded in those figures.

In addition to the trip to the Balkans and Israel, where commercial travel would not be feasible, the government has also hired private jets for short-haul flights to Brussels, Paris and Munich.

Analysis of historical flights records suggests that on a number of these occasions, commercial flights were available.

On at least five occasions in recent months, Village found commercial flights with a scheduled departure time within just over 90 minutes of the departure of the government’s private jet, though it was sometimes far closer.

During the Taoiseach’s recent trip to Munich in February for example, a commercial flight with Lufthansa from Dublin left within 45 minutes of the government private jet, while there was a return flight available within an hour and 40 minutes.

Instead, the government opted to hire a Bombardier Challenger 350 for €73,000.

Private-jet travel is considered to be up to 14 times more polluting than commercial flights, according to European sustainability NGO Transport & Environment.

The Taoiseach also visited Paris in February for a special meeting of European leaders to discuss supporting Ukraine. For this, the government chartered two private jets for each leg of the journey, leaving the Air Corps base at Baldonnel for Le Bourget Airport.

Flight data shows, however, that Aer Lingus flights between Dublin and Paris were scheduled to depart within an hour of the Taoiseach’s jet, landing and taking off from Charles de Gaulle Airport, which is a 10-minute drive from Le Bourget Airport.

The Taoiseach is also a frequent visitor of Brussels, regularly attending EU summits. On at least four occasions since last October, the government has charted a private jet for the two-hour flight.

This is despite on three of those occasions, there were once again commercial options available. On the most recent trip to Brussels in March, an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin was scheduled to take off just over 90 minutes before the government’s private jet, while for the return journey, the government’s jet left just 10 minutes before another Aer Lingus flight.

The Department of the Taoiseach did not respond to queries regarding the decision to fly private rather than commercially, but did say “the provision of a contingency Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) arrangement was procured by the Department of Defence following an open tender competition”.

The spokesperson also stated that “the Department of the Taoiseach records, monitors and values the carbon emissions associated with official air travel”, offsetting the emissions annually.  

Many of the Taoiseach’s staff and security team are able to fly commercially, however, such as the recent trip to Zurich for the World Economic Forum where the Close Protection Officer responsible for ensuring the Taoiseach’s safety flew commercially.

The Taoiseach, meanwhile, hired a private jet for the two-hour flight at a cost of over €63,000. By comparison, records show the flights for the Close Protection Officer cost a little over €600.

According to flight data, a Swiss Air flight to Zurich took off from Dublin just over an hour before the Taoiseach, and while there was a gap of almost three hours between the government’s private jet taking off on the return journey and any commercial options, it also made a one hour stop in Knock before returning to Baldonnel.

Emails released under Freedom of Information legislation also show that the increased traffic of private jets arriving at Baldonnel is causing some consternation at the Air Corps base.

After being contacted by the private jet company flying the Taoiseach to Copenhagen in November last year, a Commandant at the base told the Department of Defence it was the “second interaction from an external organisation which we have not been briefed in on and are blind to”.

A tender to find the Learjet’s successor was published in November last year, with the government set to spent €45 million on the aircraft.

The Department was informed by the Commandant that “numerous things need to be put in place and staffing in order to handle any additional non-military” flights, and that these plans cannot be put in place unless they were provided with the information from the Department.

Government officials have previously stated that they had lost “all confidence” in the Learjet, however, an internal Defence Forces report on the future of the aircraft suggests that 2023 may have been “somewhat of an anomaly”, with previous years indicating the Learjet had a “good rate of serviceability”.

The Air Corps have thus suggested that the Learjet serve as a backup option for forthcoming Ministerial transport missions, while the government continues to progress in replacing the jet.

A tender to find the Learjet’s successor was published in November last year, with the government set to spent €45 million on the aircraft.