Government-owned plane controversy doesn't end with sale

The Progressive Conservatives hoped selling the government-owned plane would end the controversies that came with it, but the Liberals argue it will now be harder to track what politicians spend on air travel.

Liberals say it will be harder to track politicians' air travel with charter companies

The Alward government says using private charter flights will be less expensive for taxpayers than operating the government plane sold earlier this week.

But the Liberals contend it's going to make it more difficult to track what the premier and cabinet ministers spend on air travel.

Opposition finance critic Don Arseneault was also quick to point out prominent Progressive Conservative supporter Bob Hatheway owns a Frederiction charter airline, Capital Airways.

The government-owned plane had a centralized log to track which politicians used it and how often. (CBC)
"It'll be interesting to see if it becomes the new preferred air service of the premier," Arseneault said on Wednesday.

Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud says he has already used a private charter to attend at least one government announcement in Edmundston.

But Robichaud did not know the cost, nor whether he used Hatheway's company.

"I don't remember," he said.

The government plane had a centralized log, making it easy to find out where politicians were flying on government business and how much it was costing.

Transportation Minister Claude Williams confirms that doesn't exist for charters.

"Each department is responsible for chartering their own service for aircraft," he said.

Still, Robichaud says charters will be cheaper. "That's the reason we decided to sell the government airplane. Because it's cheaper now to rent the service from the private sector."

"I could understand that 15 or 20 years ago, the private sector was not available to provide that kind of service, but right now there are a lot of companies ready to provide that same kind of service at a cheaper cost."

Hatheway said his company has provided "maybe three or four" flights to the government since it took office.​

Responses to a request for proposals on a five-year contract are currently being reviewed, Williams has said.

The government sold its 2006 King Air B-200 aircraft to Can-West Corporate Air Charters Ltd. for $2.5 million US.

It will now be used for the air ambulance service in Alberta.

The plane had been costing taxpayers about $890,000 a year to operate, including flight crew salaries, insurance, fuel and maintenance, government officials have said.