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The Government has been advised to hire private jets to replace its ailing Learjet

Aviation consultancy Altea has recommended the leasing of private aircraft.

The Air Corps MATS aircraft.
The Air Corps MATS aircraft.
Image: Irish Defence Forces

AN INTERNATIONAL AVIATION consultancy has advised Government that the most viable short term solution to the ailing government jet service is to rent private jets. 

Aviation consulting group Altea, which has offices across Europe and in Canada, has been brought in to carry out a detailed report on the matter for the Department of Defence (DOD). 

The report suggested four suppliers who presented the best match for the Government’s needs, along with a number of options on the type of deal that could be availed of. 

This review was ordered to find a temporary solution while a dedicated committee examines the viability of a new purchase. 

The Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) currently consists of just one plane, but the craft – a nearly two-decade-old Learjet – is coming towards the end of its lifespan and can’t be relied upon to ferry the Taoiseach or other ministers to summits and other overseas events.  

The Journal revealed last month in an article based on documents released via Freedom of Information legislation that that discussions were at an advanced stage on the merits of purchasing or leasing a replacement for the ailing Government jet.

We asked the Department for Altea’s full report on the matter in the wake of that article. Officials said it could not be released as it was commercially sensitive information, and a DOD spokesperson instead gave an explanation of the work carried out by Altea and the current status of efforts to find a solution to the MATS problem. 

Grounded 

The MATS – that sole Learjet -  is currently operated by the Air Corps and based at Baldonnel in Casement Aerodrome in South County Dublin. 

The Government jet has recently suffered technical problems, forcing the Taoiseach to avail of a CASA maritime patrol aircraft to ferry him back from Brussels. 

The Air Corps Learjet was purchased in 2004 and has been in operation for 17 years. 

The Government once had two jets, but the Gulfstream IV plane was sold in 2017 for €418,000.

There was controversy at the time over the sale price, given that the jet was valued at somewhere in the region of €750,000. It was bought in 1992 for €45 million.

End of life

In their explainer provided to this website the DOD said that the MATS is currently provided primarily by the 2004 Learjet. 

The aircraft is not only used for ministerial air transport. It has also completed resupply of PPE to troops in Lebanon, medical missions and troop rotation flights.

50750782902_2cd56f8749_o The Air Corps Learjet on a resupply of PPE to troops in Lebanon. Source: Irish Defence Forces

“An inter Departmental MATS Review Group (MRG) was convened in 2021 to examine options for the future provision of the MATS. The Group is expected to make a recommendation to Government later this year in this regard.

“In the meantime the Learjet has become increasingly unreliable; 45 of 119 days for which the Lear was unavailable in 2021 were in the year’s final quarter. This pattern has continued to the point that it has been unavailable for 29% of 2022 to date (21 June).

“However the nature of any permanent replacement service option may result in a significant potential lead in time for procurement and delivery.

“Thus in order to address concerns on the ongoing resilience of the MATS in the interim period it was decided that contingency measures would be examined by the Department of Defence and the Air Corps,” the spokesperson said. 

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51956885490_4f26289692_o The CASA maritime patrol aircraft and the Learjet at Baldonnel. Source: Irish Defence Forces

The Department said that separate to the MRG process in January they sought, through tender, an aviation consultant to provide a short report on how to find a temporary fix for the Government jet.

“This was considered a necessary step owing to the complexities and range of commercial options available for consideration.

“Three responses were received and, following evaluation, Altea were deemed to be the successful tenderer,” the spokesperson explained. 

In writing the report, the DOD said, Altea contacted 21 potential European based suppliers. The request for information encompassed issues such as previous experience, available aircraft, response times, range and costs.

The Department said that nine responses were received from the 21 aircraft suppliers. 

“Following assessment of same, Altea advised in its report that four of these suppliers potentially offered a suitable contingency arrangement for the MATS.

Altea determined that “a block charter or a jet card arrangement per annum, would be the most appropriate avenue for further progression”.

A “jet card” is an arrangement between a customer and a leasing firm in which the client, in this case the Government, could use various rental aircraft at a previously agreed hourly rate. 

“The options put forward by Altea are currently under consideration by the Department’s procurement experts with a view to progressing the procurement of a contingency arrangement in the near future.

“Given the commercial sensitivities involved in this process, the report produced by Altea is not available for publication,” the spokesperson said. 

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