Other Questions. - Ministerial Transport.

John Gormley

Ceist:

70 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Defence if he will discontinue the practice of forcing the Government jet to fly from Baldonnel to Dublin Airport to pick up the Taoiseach or Ministers flying to foreign destinations, thereby saving considerable expense and wear and tear on the aircraft; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18873/03]

The Gulfstream IV jet operates to and from Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel or Dublin Airport, depending on the mission profile and whichever location is most suited to the overall needs of the travelling group. The mission profile may dictate landings-take-off from Dublin Airport for a number of reasons. The limitations of the navigation approach aids in Baldonnel mean that the aircraft sometimes has to divert to Dublin Airport where the approach aids allow aircraft to land in much poorer weather conditions. When the Gulfstream IV is departing on a transatlantic or transcontinental flight it may require a longer runway than is available at Baldonnel. Due to runway or airfield maintenance at Baldonnel, the aircraft would have to operate out of Dublin, as was the case for a three-month period during 2002 when all flights departed from Dublin Airport due to the runway being resurfaced at Baldonnel. Decisions in relation to these issues are made by the Air Corps on operational and safety grounds.

The vast majority of ministerial flights, particularly over the past few years, have departed from Baldonnel. The number of flights made by the Gulfstream IV jet between Baldonnel and Dublin Airport in each of the past five years is as follows: 1998, 28 Baldonnel to Dublin flights and 36 from Dublin to Baldonnel; 1999, 31 Baldonnel to Dublin flights and 32 from Dublin to Baldonnel; 2000, 30 Baldonnel to Dublin flights and 31 from Dublin to Baldonnel; 2001, 15 Baldonnel to Dublin flights and 14 from Dublin to Baldonnel; 2002, nine Baldonnel to Dublin flights and 17 from Dublin to Baldonnel.

The Deputy can see from the figures that there has been a steady decline in the number of such short hops undertaken. In any event, these flights represent only a small percentage of the overall number of flights undertaken by the Gulfstream IV aircraft. Some 92% of flights originate from Baldonnel.

Does the Minister agree that the other 8% of flights are very often for the convenience of the Taoiseach and Ministers? Will he tell the House roughly how much extra is spent as a consequence of leaving from Dublin Airport, as opposed to Baldonnel, in terms of aviation fuel and wear and tear? I listened carefully to the Minister's reply. Did I hear him correctly in so far as I think he said that when travelling to the US, Dublin Airport is used because of a longer runway?

I will perhaps wait until the Deputy has concluded.

I would have thought that once one is in the air it would not matter, and one could fly to any destination.

I am not an expert in this area and yet, clearly, for the first time in my life, I am a bit more of an expert than Deputy Gormley. That is a fantastic achievement for me because I do not recall a time when I thought that would happen. The reason for leaving from Dublin Airport, which has a longer runway, is simple. It depends on the number of people on the aircraft. If it is full, with perhaps 14 people, and is fully fuelled, it cannot leave from Baldonnel. That was the case on a number of occasions, making it essential to fly from Dublin Airport. Does Deputy Gormley not realise that sometimes he gets things wrong?

I am looking for clarification.

Humility is something the Deputy will have to work at. I have been working at it all my life.

I will work on it. What about the cost aspect in terms of wear and tear?

It is not possible to quantify that. If, for instance, in any examination that the Deputy has ever been involved in, the examiner awarded marks of 92%, the Deputy would be extremely happy with that result. Some 92% of flights take off from Baldonnel and in terms of overall wear and tear, the small hops made to Dublin certainly make an infinitesimally small difference. If the Deputy looked at the bigger picture it would be an enormous help to his party and to me.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

That concludes questions for today.