Taoiseach Micheal Martin left 'stranded' on airstrip in Brussels after Government jet breaks down

Irish Mirror   15/05/2022 08:37

Micheal Martin and his team were left “stranded” in Brussels after an Air Corps aircraft scheduled to fly them home went out of service at the last minute.

The incident caused acute embarrassment in the Department of Defence who were told they had twice in quick succession been unable to support the Taoiseach for strategically important EU and international engagements.

In emails, senior officials at the Taoiseach’s department said the latest breakdown marked a “further deterioration” in the service being provided for flying ministers around the globe.

READ MORE: Government forced to shell out over €15k on flights for Taoiseach after jet deemed 'unreliable'

Mr Martin had wanted to use the government jet to fly him and his delegation to Brussels on February 24 for an emergency meeting of EU leaders about the war in Ukraine.

The Taoiseach had also planned to travel directly to his constituency in Cork on the return leg.

With the government’s aging €8million Learjet already out of commission for repair, plans were made to use a CASA maritime patrol aircraft for the trip instead.

But a third aircraft – a one-engine PC-12 not considered ideal for the Taoiseach or President – had to be dispatched for the return leg when the CASA developed a technical hitch.

How Taoiseach Micheal Martin might have looked

Tensions rose between the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces over the last-minute snag, according to records released under FOI.

The Department of the Taoiseach was also fuming about what had happened with the Learjet unavailable for the Brussels trip and an earlier one to Berlin.

An email from a senior official in their Europe Unit and International Unit said: “This morning the Taoiseach was delayed by a number of hours returning from Brussels as the CASA went out of service, stranding the Taoiseach outside of the country.

“This week marks a further deterioration in the Ministerial Air Transport Service, which was not able on either occasion to support strategically important EU and international engagements by the Taoiseach.” Further complications also arose when it emerged that a member of the flight crew for the return voyage had tested positive for Covid-19.

An internal email said: “All crew members were masked throughout the mission.”

The Air Corps was asked to prepare a report on what had transpired with a senior officer saying the Learjet was now 18-years-old and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to source spare parts and technical assistance.

They also said the technical strength of No 1 Operations Wing maintenance squadron was at less than 50% of what was required.

The report said: “However, they continue to do their utmost to resolve technical issues as and when they arise. Ministerial Air Transport Service is provided by a single aircraft and as such represents a single point of failure.”

The CASA airplane that was drafted in for use was even older at 28 years, with high flying hours, and is due to be replaced next year, according to the records. The report added that the travel requirements of the Head of Government were recognised as being of “strategic national importance”.

“While it is regrettable that the sole MATS [Ministerial Air Transport Service] aircraft was not available, the Air Corps used all remaining resources available to ensure that the Principal Passenger was facilitated by the most expeditious means possible.”

A Department of Defence spokeswoman said: “The Air Corps Learjet was purchased new in 2004, has been in operation for seventeen years and is approaching its natural end of life.

“The Learjet’s reduced availability and reliability has continued into 2022; it has been unavailable for 35% of the year to date.

“While back-up service is sometimes provided by the Air Corps in the form of CASA fisheries patrol aircraft when other operational demands permit, these aircraft have also faced ongoing challenges.”

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