House speaker Nancy Pelosi is annoyed at President Trump right now, after she had to cancel a junket to Belgium, Egypt and Afghanistan. Pelosi and a congressional delegation had planned to use a US Air Force VIP transport for the trip, but the president refused permission – in fact, he ruled that as long as the government was shut down, no congressional delegations would be allowed to use military transport. Is this a sensible measure to save taxpayers’ money while the funding system is in crisis? Or was it just power politics?
- The USAF operates a range of VIP transport aircraft, from Gulfstream business jets up to Air Force One. Apart from the presidential aircraft their main job is to move senior officers quickly and securely, but they’re also often used by politicians.
- Security is one reason for congressmen and others to use military transports, but there are fewer other valid reasons. There’s a lot of added status in being ferried around by the Air Force. The message it sends is that you’re so important the government will give you a plane, rather than let you buy a ticket like everyone else.
- Normally this isn’t an issue; unlike commercial airliners military planes spend most of their lives not being used, and VIP transports are no exception. If a group of congressmen want to be taken somewhere, and submit the right paperwork, there’s usually a spare plane and crew to take them.
- During this time, though, government funding was a mess thanks to the shutdown, so use of military aircraft was being restricted. Some people are saying this was a political move – the Air Force already has the aircraft and crews, so there’s no real cost involved.
- But yes, there is, and it goes way beyond fuel. Every part of an aircraft has a limited lifespan – often just a few long flights. After that they need to be replaced, and spare parts aren’t cheap.
- Then there’s the cost of landing fees if the plane lands at a civilian airport – usually they don’t, and they can land at US or NATO military fields free. Crews need accommodation when they’re away from home, and security teams might be required too – they sure would have been on this trip.
- A previous trip by Pelosi ran up a bill of over $184,000 for the Air Force. The excursion, a week in Italy and Ukraine that contributed nothing to US security, involved a group of Democrat congressmen and four family members, including Pelosi’s husband.
That’s enough to pay a junior Air Force enlisted man’s wages for six years. It’s enough to put someone through Harvard. And it’s money that was taken from the American people in taxes. If Congress isn’t going to do its job, it shouldn’t get the perks that go with it.