I propose to take Priority Questions Nos. 63 and 65 together.
The Government has decided to replace the Gulfstream IV and the Beechcraft King Air in the ministerial air transport role. The decision was necessary to meet the ever-increasing demands of Government business, not least in the context of a significantly enlarged European Union.
The two tender competitions for the acquisition of the aircraft, a long-range aircraft and a smaller seven to nine-seater aircraft, are now in train. The closing date for receipt of tenders for both competitions was 30 May 2003.
The tender competitions allowed for the submission of both new and previously owned aircraft and all options, such as outright purchase, lease, lease-purchase or other alternatives were open for consideration. In tandem with proposals for the supply of the aircraft, tenderers were also asked to outline offers for the Gulfstream IV aircraft as at the proposed date of hand-over of the tendered aircraft or in mid-July 2004, following the EU Presidency. Offers for the Beechcraft King Air were also requested in tandem with proposals for its replacement. Tenders were received from nine companies in respect of the long range aircraft and from six companies for the seven to nine seat aircraft. Some tenders contained a number of proposals. In addition, a number included new and pre-owned aircraft.
The tenders are the subject of evaluation and, accordingly, the Deputies will appreciate I cannot comment on the process, which is ongoing. I expect the evaluation process to be completed in or around the end of this month. The acquisition of the aircraft will be the subject of a detailed cost benefit analysis, including value for money, with comparison costs associated with alternative arrangements. Responses to the tender process will determine the most advantageous system of payment.
The cost of the acquisition of the aircraft can only be defined following the evaluation process, particularly given that pre-owned aircraft are a consideration. It is expected the new aircraft should be available for operational service by 1 October 2003.