» Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Prime Minister’s Planes

Asked for further information about the Prime Minister’s new planes, the PMOS informed journalists that this arose out of the fact that for reasons we could do nothing about, the existing aircrafts were getting older by the month. Valiant as the RAF attempts had been to keep them in proper order, there had been, both for ourselves and for others, problems about reliability. Therefore, it was something that we had to face up to, and we had commissioned Sir Peter Gershon to do a proper report into the costings. Sir Peter Gershon had come back with a proposal which was for two second hand planes to be leased. They would be at the disposal of The Queen and other members of the Royal Family, but also, then, Ministers, including the Prime Minister. One plane would be for short-haul, and the other for long-haul, with sufficient space for Her Majesty’s lobby. What had not been decided was which type of plane would be used, as it was part of the tendering process, nor the precise fit, for the same reason.

The PMOS said that we were accepting Sir Peter’s proposal, as we believed that it was the right approach, as it would provide the necessary security and communications. It would also stop situations like last week’s trip to Brussels where the Prime Minister had ended up travelling on a charter plane with an Austrian flag.

Asked what was the difference between this, and The Queen’s flight, the PMOS said that The Queen’s flight was the squadron that up until now had been providing planes. The PMOS said it was up to the RAF and the MOD to talk about the future of the squadron, as it was a matter for them.

Asked if The Queen had first call on the planes, the PMOS said yes.

Asked for further information about the Austrian plane to Brussels, as surely The Queen’s flight could have taken people, the PMOS said that it was the best option on the day.

Asked who would provide the pilots and the crew for the planes, the PMOS said that would be part of the leasing operation.

Asked if that meant that it would not be the RAF, the PMOS said that it would not be the RAF.

Asked why was it so much more cheaper to lease second hand planes, rather than to buy them, and what were the alternatives, the PMOS said that was part of the Gershon Report which would be published next week.

Asked for further explanations on how the tendering process worked, and an example of additional costs, the PMOS said that whenever it was worked out, the additional costs would be around £1.2 million per year, but that would be absorbed within departments. What it would give us was a proper security and communications system, which was appropriate. In terms of the tendering process, the PMOS said that was a detail that would be in the report next week.

Asked that it would go out to tender like any other Government contract, the PMOS confirmed that it would.

Asked if it would be possible to buy British, as the trade unions seem to assume that we would buy Boeing, which would be an insult to British industry, the PMOS said that the reaction was a bit premature, as we had not yet decided. What we would in the end decide would be to get the right aircraft and what was the most cost effective option. The PMOS said that he was not going to get into speculation about whether that was British, European, or American.

Asked whether the new planes would affect the environment any more than the existing arrangements, the PMOS said that from the 1st April 2006, we were offsetting all Ministerial travel.

Asked if it could be assumed that when the Palace, other Ministers etc used the aircraft, they would pay a nominal charge towards, the PMOS said that it would divided up between departments, but it was part of Sir Peter Gershon’s calculations. The PMOS said that there would be continued costings on this, but again, it was part of the overall report which people could study next week.

Asked when were the planes expected to be ready, the PMOS replied not until late 2007, early 2008.

Asked if we were confident that the current Prime Minister would get use of the planes, the PMOS replied that the question was a new variant on an old theme! Given that this Prime Minister was not standing for election again, it was a statement of the blindingly obvious that it was likely to be of more benefit to his successors.

Asked if the plane would be at the disposal of other Ministers, and also, under what circumstances would it be available to the Prime Minister for private trips or holidays, the PMOS replied that it would be available for other Ministers. With regards to the holiday part of the question, as we had always said, the Prime Minister had uniquely made efforts to travel by commercial aircraft where possible, unless advised otherwise by his security advisors.

Asked for further details regarding the planes such as the extra £1.2 million, and were those annual figures, what livery would be on the planes, the crew would definitely not be RAF, was there a problem with the MOD’s 146s aircraft and how would the planes be kitted out, the PMOS replied that £1.2 million would be an annual figure. With regards to the rest of the questions, the PMOS said that there was a problem about reliability, but there was also an issue about long haul flights. As people knew, we had had to charter 777s, and getting those in a very tight aircraft market had become increasingly difficult. The PMOS said that kitting out the planes would be much more possible in planes that were leased than in chartered planes.

Asked if it was correct that there had been problems caused in the past as there were only two satellite lines out of a chartered 777, the PMOS replied that the new planes would give people proper communication.

Asked to confirm that the Prime Minister sometimes travelled by military plane and sometimes by chartered plane, the PMOS confirmed that was correct.

Asked if the Gershon Report would deal specifically with Ministerial travel, the PMOS said that it would.

Asked if the aim was to stop chartering aircraft, the PMOS said that the aim was to be able to rationalise things so that we did not have to have the short-term charters that we did at the moment.

Asked how many days a year would the plane be used, the PMOS said that would be in the Gershon Report.

Briefing took place at 16:00 | Search for related news

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