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Last year, lawmakers excoriated the CEOs of the Big Three automakers for traveling to Washington, D.C., by private jet to attend a hearing about a possible bailout of their companies.
But apparently Congress is not philosophically averse to private air travel: At the end of July, the House approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and Members of Congress.
The Air Force had asked for one Gulfstream 550 jet (price tag: about $65 million) as part of an ongoing upgrade of its passenger air service.
But the House Appropriations Committee, at its own initiative, added to the 2010 Defense appropriations bill another $132 million for two more airplanes and specified that they be assigned to the D.C.-area units that carry Members of Congress, military brass and top government officials.
Because the Appropriations Committee viewed the additional aircraft as an expansion of an existing Defense Department program, it did not treat the money for two more planes as an earmark, and the legislation does not disclose which Member had requested the additional money.
An Appropriations Committee staffer said the military was already planning to replace its passenger fleet, and the committee looked at the request and decided they should speed up the replacement.
The Gulfstream G550 is a luxury business jet, which the company advertises as featuring long-range flight capacity that easily links Washington, D.C., with Dubai, London with Singapore and Tokyo with Paris. The companys promotional materials say, The cabin aboard the G550 combines productivity with exceptional comfort. It features up to four distinct living areas, three temperature zones, a choice of 12 floor plan configurations with seating for up to 18 passengers.
The version Gulfstream sells to the military is reconfigured for the government with modest accommodations, not the luxury version sold to private customers, said a source familiar with the planes.
Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) had submitted a request to the Appropriations Committee for a $70 million earmark for one airplane on behalf of Georgia-based Gulfstream, and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) lists the airplane as one of the earmarks that he was asked to request, though his office said he never made the request to the Appropriations Committee.
The committee saw fit to fund it at that level without Kingstons involvement, his spokesman said.
Bishops office did not return several calls requesting comment for this story.
Air Force spokesman Vincent King told Roll Call: This line item provides funding to purchase C-37 aircraft. The C-37 is the military variant of the commercial Gulfstream 550 executive jet. C-37s provide executive airlift for senior U.S. government officials including Congress and combatant commanders.
The language of the appropriations bill specifies that of the three aircraft, the Air Force will provide one aircraft each for the 201st Airlift Squadron and the 89th Airlift Wing. Both are based out of Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.