Ministers used gov't plane much more often despite sustainability goals
Ministers of the Rutte IV Cabinet used the government plane much more often in the first eight months of this year than in previous years. The plane also regularly flew through European airspace without passengers, RTL Nieuws reports. And that while discouraging shorter flights to reduce CO2 emissions is a spearhead in the Rutte IV coalition agreement.
The government plane made at least 56 flights in the first eight months of 2022. That is significantly more than the 43 flights in the same period of 2019 and 33 in 2018.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister Wopke Hoekstra of Foreign Affairs, in particular, often use the government plane for short flights to Paris and Luxembourg, for example. Eight of the 12 flights to those two destinations were for Rutte or Hoekstra.
The rest of the 36 business trips Ministers made to Luxembourg and Paris this year were made by car or train. According to Rutte’s Ministry of General Affairs and Hoesktra’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was not possible in all cases to use a regular scheduled flight, train, or car because of the two Minsiters’ agendas.
In total, Ministers made 150 business trips abroad by car, train, or plane.
RTL Nieuws also found that the government plane sometimes flies empty through Europe. Since October last year, this has happened at least 12 times between Amsterdam and other European cities. For example, the government plane flew up and down twice during the UN climate conference in Glasgow on November 1. One flight in both directions was empty. According to the government information service Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst, this was because it was not allowed to park in Glasgow.
Aviation expert Joris Melkert of TU Delft calculated that the 12 empty flights accounted for over 260,000 kilograms in CO2 emissions.
The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, responsible for the government plane, stressed that the government finds it essential to reduce aviation’s impact on the climate. But it also has to consider how Ministers can do their work as efficiently as possible. “In some cases, the choice is made to perform a so-called (empty) positioning flight,” the Ministry said to RTL Nieuws.
In addition to car, train, scheduled flight, and government plane, Ministers also traveled with commercial private jets in the past year. For example, Minster Hoekstra hired a private jet to visit Strasbourg. That cost 12,950 euros. For comparison, Minister Henk Staghouwer of Agriculture flew to Strasbourg and back on a scheduled flight for 767.67 euros.
Hoekstra also took a private jet to Prague and Bratislava for 29,950 euros. Prime Minister Rutte took a private jet to London. The Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst and Ministry of Foreign Affairs told RTL that they hired private jets because the government plane was unavailable and other modes of transport did not fit their agenda.
GroenLinks wants the Cabinet and King Willem-Alexander to use more sustainable modes of transport like the train more often for trips less than 700 kilometers. "How can you expect people to do something about the climate if you don't set a good example yourself," parliamentarian Laura Bromet said to RTL.
Responding to parliamentary questions about the King using the train instead of flying on October 7, the Prime Minster's office said: "Unfortunately, traveling by train is not always appropriate due to factors like safety, efficiency, and flexibility. Nevertheless, this option will be considered each time, taking into account the aforementioned factors, and it will be examined each time whether it is possible to fit transport by train into the travel schedule."