Government-owned plane up for sale

The New Brunswick government has issued requests for proposals to help sell the government-owned plane and to provide a charter air service for the premier and ministers.

Opposition Liberals say charter service will be less transparent

The Alward government has been criticized for its use of the government-owned airplane. David Alward, in this image, is leaving the plane in Charlo on Sept. 20, 2011.

The provincial government's plane is officially up for sale.

Transportation Minister Claude Williams has put out a request for proposals for someone to broker the sale of the King Air B-200.

He's also inviting charter air companies to bid on a five-year contract to provide flights for the premier and cabinet ministers.

"We expect to have a new safe, timely and cost-effective flight service in place in the next few months," said Williams.

He expects the government will require about 100 flight-hours each year.

The Liberal Opposition contends farming out the flight service to a private company will make it harder to see who's using the plane and how often.

But Williams says because ministers will be billed for each flight, it will be very transparent.

"If a minister flew to Montreal or Toronto, it will be on our expense account, and that information will be available through the same type of release, as this is public information," he said.

Flight logs for the government plane are currently available from the Department of Transportation. The plane can also be tracked on various websites.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs promised to review the future ownership of the government-owned plane in 2012.

He reiterated plans to sell the twin-engine turbine aircraft as a way to cut costs during the budget speech in March.

The deadline for both requests for proposals is June 17 at 1:30 p.m.

Political lightening rod

The government-owned plane has long been a contentious issue.

In 2011, the Opposition accused the Alward government of using it inappropriately.

The premier had used the plane on Sept. 20 of that year to fly to Moncton, Charlo and Campbellton — all to announce the creation of Invest NB.

That meant a total of four flights on the $1,500 per hour government plane to take the politicians and executives to the different media events.

Then, in December, the Opposition Liberals discovered the taxpayer-owned plane made three flights to northwest New Brunswick on the same weekend the Progressive Conservative Party was holding a $500-per-person fundraiser near Edmundston.

Williams said the premier did attend the PC function, but argued the plane’s use was justified; that the premier was meeting with local MLAs on some regional issues.

When Alward's Progressive Conservatives were in opposition, they routinely criticized the former Shawn Graham government for its decision to purchase the plane for $4.5 million to replace the plane that had been leased for the previous seven years.