Why fly less? Ministers take the government plane more often

A business trip from The Hague to Luxembourg or Paris? Ministers Dijkgraaf and Harbers took the official car or train last year to get there. Prime Minister Rutte and Minister Hoekstra took a different approach. Last year they invariably chose a flight, often on the government plane.

Research by RTL Nieuws shows that at least 56 government flights were carried out in the first eight months of 2022. This is many more than the 43 the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management counted in the same period in 2019.

The increase therefore also concerns relatively short flights to Paris or Luxembourg. Remarkable, because in the coalition agreement presented in January, the government states that it will discourage short-haul flights in order to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation. “Reducing emissions is necessary to achieve the climate goals, but also to improve air quality,” reads the agreement.

Deviate

In line with that message, the majority of the 36 business trips to Luxembourg and Paris this year were made by train or car. The Ministry of the Interior says about this: “The time saved by flying is very limited, flying presents more logistical challenges and is less flexible in terms of time than a train connection.”

But Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra’s contribution to reducing emissions and short flights was limited. Last year they ignored the more sustainable options of trains and cars. Of the ministers’ 12 flights to Paris and Luxembourg, 8 times involved a journey with Rutte or Hoekstra.

According to the two ministers’ ministries, it was not possible in all cases to use an ordinary scheduled plane, train or car due to Hoekstra and Rutte’s agendas.

‘Take the train’

The coalition party ChristenUnie is critical of the government. Party chairman Gert-Jan Segers calls on the government to take the train more often and fly less. “At least when it comes to shorter distances within Europe. And if the train is not practically feasible, the cabinet members can also take a regular scheduled flight.”

“How can you expect people to do something about the climate if you don’t set a good example yourself”, wonders GrønLink MP Laura Bromet. Her party therefore wants to enforce a proposal that the cabinet and the king take the train more often for journeys shorter than 700 kilometers.

More than 150 trips

In total, since the beginning of this year, the research editorial team has looked at more than 150 foreign business trips by ministers. Traveled by car, train or plane. Although all ministries state that sustainability plays an important role, it is striking that the same considerations are not taken everywhere.

For example, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Food Quality states that flying should preferably be avoided. And if it has to be, the ministry chooses a scheduled flight instead of the state planes, which generate higher emissions per passenger.

RTL Nieuws has previously shown that government planes sometimes make extremely short and environmentally polluting empty flights between, for example, Amsterdam and Rotterdam to save a minister a limited amount of time. This led, among other things, to parliamentary questions to the minister for the coalition party CDA.

The new research shows that the government plane not only sometimes flies empty over the Netherlands, but also regularly whizzes through European airspace without passengers. Since last October, the government plane has flown empty at least twelve times between Amsterdam and other European cities.

“The cabinet can do better,” says party leader Segers from ChristenUnie. “An empty government plane that now regularly flies over Europe without passengers is not exactly a good implementation of our climate policy.”

Tom return climate conference

For example, the government planes flew up and down twice during the UN climate conference in Glasgow on 1 November last year. One return flight was empty because the government plane was not allowed to park in Glasgow, according to the Government Information Service.

According to aviation expert Joris Melkert from TU Delft, empty flights should be avoided as far as possible due to the environmental impact. “Try not to let the planes fly empty. It’s a complete shame,” he previously told RTL Nieuws.

260,000 kilos of CO2

Melkert’s calculations show that the twelve empty flights of the government plane, which RTL Nieuws tracked together, account for an emission of more than 260,000 kilos of CO2. You would have to plant a large forest to offset these emissions.

The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment is responsible for planning the state flights. It emphasizes that the government considers it important that aviation’s impact on the climate is reduced. At the same time, we look at how ministers can carry out their work as efficiently as possible. “In some cases, it is chosen to carry out a so-called (empty) positioning flight.”

‘Sustainable’ state visit

From 27 to 29 June, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima paid a state visit to Austria. Part of the trip was a train journey from Vienna to Graz to talk about sustainable transport.

Their own journey home was not exactly tenable. To pick up the royal couple from Graz, the government plane first flew more than 2,400 kilometers without passengers between Madrid, Amsterdam and Graz. These empty flights required 15,000 liters of kerosene, good for 38,000 kilos of CO2 emissions. If they had also taken the train back instead of the government plane, the emissions per person would have been estimated to have been around 2 kilos.

29,950 euros for private jets

In addition to car, train, scheduled aircraft and government aircraft, there is another way ministers have traveled in the past year: by private commercial aircraft. For example, Minister Hoekstra hired a private jet for a visit to Strasbourg for 12,950 euros. Earlier this year, then minister Staghouwer went up and down with a scheduled flight for 767.67 euros and state secretary Van Hufflen took the train.

According to the Blue Book, a handbook for civil servants, chartering private planes is the very last option for travel. It comes with a hefty price tag. In addition, the emissions per person are higher than with a scheduled flight. Nevertheless, Hoekstra often hired such a jet.

In March, he flew to Prague and Bratislava for 29,950 euros. Prime Minister Rutte also hired a private plane in March this year. He flew the Jumbo family’s Van Eerds jet to London. According to the State Information Service and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, alternative transport was not possible for all journeys by commercial private aircraft because the government aircraft was not available and other forms of transport did not fit into the agenda.

accountability

Based on various summaries of state flights from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, published receipts for declarations of administrative costs from all ministries, the public agenda for ministers and data from the Flightradar24 platform, the foreign missions of ministers and state secretaries have been mapped. out.

The government flights of the government aircraft ordered by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management do not only concern data from the current Boeing Business Jet PH-GOV. For 2019, a temporary aircraft was leased from KLM, which at the time functioned as a state aircraft.

The results of the investigation were presented to all ministries and the State Information Service, and questions were asked to clarify the policy regarding ministers’ foreign business trips.

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