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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Government out to tender for new €45m jet after  ’embarrassing’ breakdown

The Government has gone out to tender for a new €45m jet aircraft to replace the beleaguered Learjet, which broke down again last week as sources described it as a “national embarrassment”.

Earlier this week, the Irish Examiner reported that the Government had to charter a €7,000-per-hour business aircraft to bring the Tánaiste to the Middle East after the Learjet broke down again leaving Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “stranded” in Paris.

In a notice published yesterday, the Department of Defence announced the competition for a new plane for the Irish Air Corps for “ministerial air transport and broader utility use”, including evacuating Irish citizens from critical situations abroad.

It said it must have a passenger seating capacity of “no less than 10 seats, an unrefuelled range of no less than 4,000 nautical miles… and the capability of being fitted with a Defensive Aid Suite (DAS) and secure digital communications”. DAS is a defensive system on military aircraft to protect against missiles.

The tender documents specify the jet will be used primarily for the transport of Government ministers, such as the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and other Cabinet members. However, it also notes potential other uses. This could include evacuating Irish citizens from critical situations abroad in “limited instances”.

It also says it could be used for the medical evacuation or repatriation of Irish Defence Forces personnel deployed on overseas missions, as well as logistics support for transport of sensitive material or resupplies to Defence Forces overseas missions and air ambulance patient transfers.

The push to secure a new jet aircraft comes after Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin signed off on plans to replace the Learjet earlier this year which was coming to the “end of its lifecycle”.

“There have been serious issues with it,” he said. “I’m not prepared to stand over it. And in my view, a replacement jet is required.”

Mr Martin cited the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, when Ireland essentially had to depend on other governments to get to places on planes for Irish citizens that needed to be evacuated quickly.

The Department of Defence has had to organise more than half a dozen charter flights for office holders over the past 18 months with the €8m Learjet dogged by technical issues and a series of breakdowns.

On at least three occasions, senior members of the Government have ended up “stranded” overseas when the jet broke down while tasked with bringing them back to Ireland.

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