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Royal and Ministerial Air Travel

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 26 March 2008

Every year members of the royal family and senior Government Ministers undertake a number of journeys to fulfil a wide range of important public engagements and other essential commitments. The large majority of that travel is undertaken by road, rail and scheduled flights. However, there are times when these parties need to use non-scheduled or dedicated flights, for example when these engagements involve several commitments in different parts of the country on the same day.

In 2006, Sir Peter Gershon, in his review of the royal and ministerial air travel service, recommended that the existing arrangements—currently provided by 32 (The Royal) Squadron of the RAF and, where RAF planes are unavailable, the charter market—be replaced with a new dedicated service. Over the last 12 months the Department has worked closely with the Royal Household, Number 10 and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on plans to establish this new service.

The Department has now completed an outline business case for the new service, in line with Government procurement guidelines. This supports the analysis carried out by Sir Peter Gershon two years ago and its assessment of the need to improve the existing service. It also identifies a number of recent developments, some of which have significantly affected the nature of the service required.

In particular, the new Ministerial Code, published in July 2007, contains a clear presumption in favour of using scheduled flights rather than using RAF or chartered aircraft. An increasing proportion of overseas journeys, including a number of those undertaken by the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, are now routinely made on scheduled flights. Since 2006, more use has been made of the charter market in place of RAF aircraft provided by 32 (The Royal) Squadron. In addition, a number of concerns highlighted by Sir Peter Gershon’s team in relation to charter provision—such as value for money—have now been addressed. Over the same period, there have been substantial above-inflation increases in the cost of buying and operating commercial aircraft, with high price premiums currently being demanded and paid for early delivery.

The Department is today recommending that the needs of these users can best be met through procuring a small aircraft for official travel within the UK, chartered air services for longer journeys involving small parties and a continuation of existing arrangements with UK airlines for journeys involving large parties. This approach provides the best solution for all users whilst minimising the financial cost and environmental impact of the new service.

The Royal Household will be responsible for taking forward any procurement activity to support these recommendations separately. The new arrangements are expected to be in place when the service currently provided by 32 (The Royal) Squadron is withdrawn on 1 April 2009.

I would like to thank Sir Peter Gershon and his team for their work on the review and for the officials, industry experts and service suppliers who have supported completion of the business case. I also wish, on behalf of the Government, to thank 32 (The Royal) Squadron for the service that they have provided to the Royal Household and Ministers for the last 70 years.