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EU institutions will soon be able to spend millions more on private jet flights for their top officials.
Even as the bloc pledges to slash emissions to meet its climate targets, Brussels has increased the amount it anticipates spending on “air taxi” flights for officials to €13.5 million, according to a document on the EU’s tender database.
The new four-year contract — which will cover flights for the European Commission, the Parliament, the Council and the External Action Service — replaces the existing five-year arrangement that set €10.71 million as the maximum value that could be spent on private jets between 2016 and 2021.
A Commission spokesperson said the new contract — which covers an estimated 1,606 flight hours, almost half of which would be used for mid-range trips between 6,500 and 10,000 kilometers — reflects the “potential increase in demand, mainly due to the pandemic.”
“Fewer commercial flights have been available and therefore this increase of maximum ceiling is designed to ensure the availability of this solution should such problems persist over time,” the spokesperson said. “The value of a contract corresponds to an estimation of the needs and does not necessarily mean that the entire amount will be spent.”
The new contract comes on the heels of the July release of the Commission’s Fit for 55 climate package, which aims to set the bloc on course to slash greenhouse gas emissions 55 percent by 2030 — on the way to reaching climate neutrality by 2050.
The transport sector will have to shoulder a large portion of the burden, with the EU eyeing an emissions reduction of 90 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2050.
So far, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has taken six private jet flights in 2020 and eight in 2021. Her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, took 14 such flights for business in 2019 and faced criticism for taking air taxis to short-haul destinations like Strasbourg.
The Commission said chartered trips are only for “exceptional circumstances,” such as for security reasons or if a commercial flight isn’t available or doesn’t fit with diary commitments.
Officials can use an air taxi only when accompanying a member of the Commission, according to the spokesperson. The number of officials accompanying a commissioner varies according to the needs of a mission and therefore cannot be accurately predicted — “but they are limited,” the spokesperson added.
The Commission is “committed to reducing its environmental impact” in line with the European Green Deal and “intends to further reduce travel associated to its operations when these can be replaced by videoconferences” as part of its plan to reach climate neutrality by 2030, according to the spokesperson.
Council President Charles Michel has taken 15 private air taxi flights so far in 2021 (three of them provided by the Belgian air force), according to the institution. This compares with 17 in 2020, and 27 flights taken by the Council president in 2019 — although the Council didn’t specify how many of those were taken by Michel’s predecessor, Donald Tusk, who was in the role until November 30 of that year.
A Council official said the institution’s own rules stipulate that only the president can fly “exceptionally” on official business by chartered aircraft, and only when “no suitable commercial service is available,” in cases of “urgency, to avoid undue delays, for complex and multi-destination trips, or where security considerations preclude the trip being made by a scheduled flight.”
The Parliament did not respond to a request for comment. The contract award is expected to be published shortly in the EU’s Official Journal.