FOREIGN Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan had his wings clipped by the Department of the Taoiseach after requesting use of the government jet for an epic voyage to a conference in Asia.
Mr Flanagan had sought use of the government’s €3,780-an-hour Learjet for a trip to Ulaanbaatar, which would have involved no less than eight separate individual flights.
The minister was planning to attend an Asia-Europe conference in Mongolia but was in a rush back to Europe to attend a meeting in Brussels, FOI documents have shown.
To try and fit both events in, the Department of Foreign Affairs came up with a convoluted flight plan which would have taken Mr Flanagan first to Finland, before two separate stop-overs in Russia, before final arrival in Mongolia fourteen hours later.
The government’s only executive aircraft — an €8 million Learjet — has a flying range that brings it just three hours in the air before it requires refuelling.
However, the proposal was refused by the Department of the Taoiseach and Mr Flanagan instead had to take scheduled flights to the event.
According to a proposed itinerary, Mr Flanagan would have left Baldonnel in Dublin at midnight on July 14 before flying for three hours to the Finnish capital Helsinki.
The aircraft would then refuel before taking off again and flying three hours east to the Russian city of Skytyvkar for a second stop-off.
The Learjet was then to be filled up again before departing on its next leg to Novosibirsk, also in Russia, where it would make its final layover on the long journey.
From there, it would be one final flight to Ulaanbaatar with arrival at 10pm local time for the summit, which was itself going to last just fifteen hours.
On the return voyage, the same arrangements were planned, which based on the Learjet’s hourly operating cost means the flight would have cost in excess of €90,000.
A permission request from the Department of Foreign Affairs explained how scheduled flights to Mongolia were “extremely limited”.
“The best available option would involve approximately 45 hours travel time, with the summit itself lasting 15 hours,” the request explained.
“Travelling by government jet would involve 26 hours travel time (including refuelling stops) … the Air Corps have been consulted and are confident that the proposal to travel by government jet is quite feasible.”
The Department also explained how Minister Flanagan was due back in Brussels not long after for a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers with the US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“This further limits commercial options,” they said. “Given the importance of the … summit and the complexity and limitations of commercial travel options, permission is kindly requested for use of the government jet.”
The Department of the Taoiseach do not however, appear to have been convinced by the case made and would not sanction use of the Learjet.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Minister Flanagan normally uses commercial airlines for official travel whenever possible.
In a statement, they said: “Use of the government jet is only considered when commercial options would impact significantly on the minister’s ability to fulfil his commitments internationally and domestically.
“In this case, permission for use of the government jet was sought but refused. Minister Flanagan therefore used scheduled, commercial flights for a Dublin-Istanbul-Bishbek-Ulaanbaatar and Ulaanbaatar-Beijing-Brussels round trip with a total travel time of some 34 hours.”
The Department of the Taoiseach said applications were judged according to the relative cost of travel versus possible scheduled alternatives.
They also take into account the need for flexibility for ministers who need to return home for Cabinet meetings, or important Dáil or Seanad debates.
A spokesman said: “It is not the practice to comment on specific applications from ministers for the use of the jet.”
The majority of requests for the government jet are granted, records released by the Department of the Taoiseach show.
Between March this year and early September, the Learjet was signed off for use on sixteen occasions by three different ministers: Michael Noonan, Frances Fitzgerald, and Charlie Flanagan.
On four occasions, requested flights did not go ahead for a variety of reasons, due to cancellation of travel plans and in the case of the proposed trip to Mongolia.