Liz Truss used a private government jet for a trip to Australia and back. The foreign secretary’s 22,000-mile journey, which cost an estimated £500,000 and generated 500 tonnes of CO2, has drawn attention to the practice of ministers using non-scheduled flights. These are the key questions and answers.
How many planes does the UK government have?
The two main aircraft are both Airbus planes, painted with a so-called “Global Britain” livery: a wide-bodied A330 tanker/transport aircraft and a narrow-bodied, more luxurious A321, kitted out with business-class seats that convert to lie-flat beds.
The A330 is operated by the Royal Air Force, while the A321 is flown by the specialist charter operator Titan Airways.
The A321 was bought new for around £80m. The A330 was acquired 10 years ago by the RAF.
In addition, the government makes ad-hoc charters; for example, on 27 January Liz Truss flew on a Jota Aviation RJ85 from Biggin Hill in Kent to Belfast City airport and back. It took off from the private jet airport 13 minutes before a scheduled British Airways departure from London City airport and landed three minutes after it.
Surely many governments have their own planes?
They certainly do. The most celebrated is US Air Force One – though this is not a specific plane. The designation actually applies to any USAF aircraft carrying the American president.
The French president flies around on Cotam 001, currently an Airbus A330.
Germany’s politicians arguably have the best government transport: a top-of-the-range Airbus A350-900.
What’s wrong with senior politicians and officials flying on non-scheduled flights?
Governments should arguably be able to behave just as any other large organisation does. If the circumstances demand it, ministers may deem it necessary to use a private jet to make a trip that could not sensibly be achieved by taking a scheduled flight – or other forms of transport.
As The Independent has pointed out, there were perfectly acceptable alternative services on Qantas for the foreign secretary and her party. Flying on QF2 would have proved faster than the government Airbus, because they do not need to refuel between the UK and Australia.
The A321 plane refuelled at Dubai and Kuala Lumpur in both directions.
What are the official rules on private flights?
“Ministers must ensure that they always make efficient and cost-effective travel arrangements,” the Ministerial Code says.
“Non-scheduled flights may be authorised when a scheduled service is not available, or when it is essential to travel by air, but the requirements of official or Parliamentary business or security considerations preclude the journey being made by a scheduled service.”
Who decides if a private jet is appropriate?
The document makes it clear that only cabinet ministers can “authorise special flights either for themselves or other ministers within their departments.
“Ministers will wish to be satisfied that their arrangements could be defended in public.”
What does Liz Truss have to say?
The foreign secretary has said of the trip to Australia: “I used the government plane – that is why we have a government plane: to enable government ministers to conduct government business, and that’s what I flew to Australia in.
“Every government decision is based on value for money. We have a government plane specifically so ministers, like me in my role as foreign secretary, can go and do the work overseas, which is ultimately delivering for the British people.”
Yet before becoming an MP, Ms Truss wrote: “Every public sector worker should feel personal responsibility for the money they spend and the money they save.
“They should spend taxpayers’ money with at least the care they would give to their own. This change of mindset would be reflected in everyday changes such as travelling by economy rather than business class.”
What other trips has this plane made?
In the past three months the furthest the Airbus A321 has been is Jakarta in Indonesia. It also made trips to and from the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.
The shortest duration was 38 minutes, from Tallinn in Estonia to Riga in Latvia – a distance of 175 miles.
There have been four short domestic flights lasting around 45 minutes each,
On 22 November, the prime minister flew between Stansted and Newcastle to address the CBI conference about, among other things, Peppa Pig land.
On Thursday, 27 January, Boris Johnson made a day trip from Stansted to Anglesey – a 222-mile flight.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies