The Department of the Taoiseach said there was no choice but to spend up to €30,000 on a charter flight for Micheál Martin because the Government’s Learjet broke down so often.
Documents from the department reveal that the Air Corps had originally said smaller Pilatus aircraft could safely be used as a back-up for transport for politicians.
However, a decision was subsequently taken that the planes – despite being given the thumbs up for globe-trotting ministers and emergency transport of the sick – should not be used for either the Taoiseach or the President.
That decision was made despite a report from the Air Corps explaining how the PC-12 airplanes had among the best safety records in the world.
The report, access to which was originally refused by the Department of the Taoiseach, said the Defence Forces were happy to stand over them as a “reserve platform” for ministerial transport.
It said the Pilatus PC-12 was the best-selling single engine, turbine-powered plane in the world and was widely used by “private and charter airlines” around the globe.
The report said 34 of the aircraft were used by the Australian ‘flying doctor’ service and that a Luxembourg-based charter company operated 47 of them for VIP transport.
'Exceptional safety record'
It said the PC-12 had an “exceptional safety record” and it was considered one of the safest aircraft available in the business transport category.
The report said: “For every 4 million flights, the PC-12 has 24 accidents. This is the lowest accident rate amongst other single engine turbine aircraft, twin engine propellor aircraft and business jets.”
It said an in-flight shutdown of the engine was extremely rare with one happening only every 650,000 flight hours.
The report said additional precautions had been made when flying the PC-12 outside of Ireland so that it would always remain within “gliding distance” of land.
It added that even though the aircraft was certified for single pilot operation, it only ever flew with two pilots, both trained to the highest standard.
The report, written in January of last year, said that throughout flights on the PC-12, emergency airports en route were designated in the event of an “inflight engine shutdown”.
It concluded: “It is recommended by the Irish Air Corps that the PC-12 is suitable and safe to act as a reserve platform for Ministerial Air Transport flights.”
However, a decision was later made that the aircraft should not be used for travel by either the Taoiseach or President Michael D Higgins.
An email from Assistant Secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach Dermot Woods last March said: “The single engine PC-12 fall-back offered is not suitable to fulfil air travel for either the Head of State or Government (as advised previously by the Air Corps).”
The email said that with the Learjet again out of action, there was no option but to charter an aircraft for use of then Taoiseach Micheál Martin on a planned trip to Paris and London.
“The costs associated with this are in the order of €25,000 to €30,000 depending on the service level contracted … it will, however, be reliable,” said the message.
Mr Woods said the charter plane would be hired with “strong reluctance” but that recent experiences with the Ministerial Air Transport Service had become “intolerable”.
In other emails, officials explained how the Taoiseach and his delegation had been left without enough food on a trip back from Germany.
A message said: “The CASA [maritime patrol aircraft] used for the return flight from Berlin was not 'prepared' for use by the Taoiseach - in terms of configuration; number of seats; and health and safety. Nor was there adequate provision made for food for a five-hour journey.”
Asked about the decision that the PC-12s not be used for either the Taoiseach or head of state, the Department of Defence said they could not comment on operational or security matters.
Last week, it was announced that due to ongoing difficulties with the Learjet, a new government jet is to be purchased.