Dáil Éireann - Volume 538 - 21 June, 2001

Written Answers. - Ministerial Air Transport Service.

62. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Defence the position regarding consideration by the Government of a replacement for the Gulfstream IV jet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18316/01]

Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): The ministerial air transport service is currently operated by the Air Corps using the Gulfstream IV executive jet, acquired in 1991, as the principal aircraft backed up by the Beechcraft King Air turboprop aircraft. The Beechcraft provides only a limited MATS operation and it is also used for pilot training. Effectively it operates nationally, to the UK and, to a minor extent, to Europe. The aircraft resources required to provide a ministerial air transport service commensurate with current and projected requirements is under consideration. This is in the context of the increased level of business for Government Ministers and officials to Europe and further afield.

The business of the European Union itself has grown by an unprecedented degree over the last decade both in the size of its market and in the depth and range of its activities. These changes have increased significantly the travel requirements of Government Ministers and officials. There is an ongoing requirement for the Govern[1187] ment to maintain a very active involvement both bilaterally, and through the EU and multilateral bodies like the United Nations, in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas so as to build Ireland's political and economic relations with countries from these regions. This requirement also involves substantial air travel by Ministers.

The ministerial air transport service has been a major asset for successive Governments. The service has proved to be extremely flexible to meet the changing timetables of Ministers. It is important that any action required to maintain the high standards set for the operation of the ministerial air transport service is taken. In that regard, all options which could improve the service available to the Government are being examined by an interdepartmental group chaired by the Department of Defence and comprising representatives of the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Finance. No decisions have been made as yet but I expect to bring a memorandum to Government on the matter.

Question No. 63 answered with Question No. 31.