Newspaper article International New York Times

Cameron Hopes to Join Leaders with Official Wings ; Aides Say Jet for Premier Would Improve Security and Help Save Money

Newspaper article International New York Times

Cameron Hopes to Join Leaders with Official Wings ; Aides Say Jet for Premier Would Improve Security and Help Save Money

Article excerpt

The government is presenting the decision as a security and money- saving measure to benefit the taxpayer rather than enhance the prime minister's prestige.

As Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair once tried to secure his own official aircraft, only to see his planned new plane nicknamed Blairforce One and lampooned as an effort to compete with the American presidential jet.

More than seven years after that project failed to get off the ground, the idea is back, with the current officeholder, David Cameron, announcing plans to join the club of world leaders with wings.

The government, which is simultaneously making big public spending cuts, is presenting the decision to acquire a plane as a security and money-saving measure -- one intended to benefit the taxpayer rather than enhance prime ministerial prestige.

While many European countries have planes for heads of government, the subject remains touchy in Britain, where politicians have been embroiled in several scandals in recent years, and where financing their travel perks is highly unpopular. Military aircraft are now used by Mr. Cameron on short-distance flights, but commercial jets are sometimes chartered by the British government at considerable expense for the prime minister's long-distance travel.

The government's money-saving argument has not impressed everyone. Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland and a lawmaker for the Scottish National Party, said the announcement should be given "about one out of 10 for timing" as the government squeezes public spending. The motivation, he told ITV News, seems to be that Mr. Cameron does not want to appear to be "outdone" by other leaders when arriving at summit meetings.

Under the new plans, Britain would convert a military in-flight refueling plane while retaining its specialized capability and making it available to Mr. Cameron and to senior ministers for long journeys. The jet would also be on hand for members of the royal family.

On Thursday, the government said it would convert one of the Royal Air Force's Voyager planes, enabling the prime minister to travel with secure communications. …

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