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Monday 29 May 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland Charlie Haughey boarding the government jet in Dublin.
# Keeping up appearances
The Department of Finance wanted to get rid of the government jet
The Cabinet and the Taoiseach wanted to keep the £2.5 million aeroplane.

JUST THREE YEARS after purchasing a jet for £2.5 million, the government considered giving it up in May 1983.

Each department mulled over the benefits of owning the aeroplane, comparing them to the cost of keeping what was seen by some as a luxury.

A study of relative costing was carried out by the Transport and Defence departments and revealed that the plane cost £579,325 to run in 1982. That included £128,000 on fuel, £142 on maintenance, £170,000 on staff, £3,000 on insurance, £12,000 on crew subsistence, £27,000 on handling and £91 depreciation.

The jet carried a total of 686 passengers on 204 flights to 23 destinations.

Breaking the figures down, that works out at a cost of £4.89 per nautical mile and £1.46 per passenger per nautical mile.

By comparison, if government ministers and officials had used scheduled airlines, there would have been a saving of £343,000.

However, the departments noted that there were advantages such as flexibility and security on which “no monetary value can be placed”.

“The service has proved to be extremely flexible where changes in departure times can be made to meet Ministers’ changing timetables,” said the Transport Department in its summary of the study for the government.

When Ministers are delayed at meetings the aircraft remains available thus alleviating travel-associated anxiety and reducing fatigue. If critical negotiations are to be faced minimisation of fatigue is essential

The department said the availability of the plane had already proved crucial during EMS, fishing and CAP negotiations in Europe.

Among the advantages listed were the availability of radio telephonic communications, the ability to embark at Cork, Shannon and Casement airports, the experience it affords to military personnel and air services to Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Stockholm and Bonn were did not have direct flights from Dublin at the time.

The Transport Department also stressed that all other EEC Member States – with the exception of Greece and Luxembourg – had similar transport methods.

In an earlier memo, Department of the Taoiseach officials cited the reduced possibility of a hijacking incident as a reason for keeping Ministers off ordinary, scheduled services.

The Taoiseach’s department indicated that it was “strongly” in favour of retaining the government jet for the above reasons. It said that while it was aware that its disposal could be justified on cost grounds, it believed it should be retained given “the nature of modern day diplomacy and international commitments”. Security and flexibility priorities outweigh cost grounds, it added.

However, the Finance Department did not agree, stating that the Transport Department’s “advantages” were open to question.

It said the “extraordinarily high cost” and “very low level of utilisation” were of ‘great concern’ to officials.

“In present financial circumstances, there are no compelling reasons why Ministers should not avail of scheduled airline services,” it said. “To the extent that this might fall somewhat short of reasonable needs, the gap could be closed by the occasional employment of air-charter services.”

The department wanted the government to look into the possibility of replacing the jet with an air-charter service, which it believed would offer savings and a more efficient arranging allowing for flexibility.

It also argued that disposing of the jet would have a positive effect on public morale.

At a time when budgetary imperatives require the greatest economy in the use of public funds and when the Government is under continuous pressure to significantly reduce the level of State expenditure on Ministerial transport generally, the replacement of the jet, which is generally regarded as a very expensive and luxurious facility, could have an important impact on public morale.

To counter the counter-argument, the Transport Department said the jet was not regarded as either very expensive or luxurious.

The Minister for Transport Jim Mitchell said he would “incline to the view that it is accepted as a normal requisite for the conduct of international business of the State”.

He considered that view supported by the “absence of criticism of the jet in the current and recent media hunts for cases of extravagant spending by the State”.

In the end, however, he said he would not object to a study into the air-charter service idea and a further consultation on how to achieve a greater return from the investment in the jet – such as more coordinated use of the craft and the extension of availability to groups of civil servants.

Today, the government owns two jets and there are no plans to dispose of either.

For further study, see the National Archives Ref 2013/100/328

See’s coverage of the 1983 State Papers>

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