EDMONTON – Premier Jim Prentice announced Tuesday he will sell the Alberta government’s controversial fleet of aircraft.
“The first decision of the cabinet is to sell the planes,” Prentice told a news conference at the legislature.
“Effective immediately, the premier and ministers will be expected to fly commercial as the primary method of transportation.”
Alberta’s taxpayer-funded Air Transportation Service operates a fleet of four planes — three Beechcraft King Air planes and a 30-seat Dash-8. Their use and misuse has been constant fodder for opposition and government critics over the years and a scathing report last month from auditor general Merwan Saher revealed several misuses of the fleet by the Redford government.
Saher famously referred to an “aura of power” that led to government staff breaking or bending the rules to accommodate the former premier, who used the planes to attend Progressive Conservative party events.
The report also showed that the program cost $3.9 million more than comparable travel alternatives in 2012.
Prentice, who met with the auditor general last week, said the province recognizes the importance of accessing the province’s rural and remote communities.
“Governments, however, do not necessarily need to own airplanes to access the province and a decision has been made by cabinet that the ownership of a fleet of aircraft, the operation of a fleet of air craft is not necessarily the most appropriate way,” he said.
The decision to sell the planes was made unanimously by cabinet, and a request for proposals for charter services will be issued immediately.
Commercial options are the preferred option in the meantime, Prentice said. Charter services to access communities not accessible by commercial flights will need approval from the premier’s office.
Prentice said he expects the process of selling the fleet to take between three and four months. It remains unclear how much the province expects to make from the sale.
“This will be done carefully and thoughtfully,” Prentice said of the sale, adding that 27 employees in provincial air transportation service will be affected.
The government planes will still be available for flights on a case-by-case basis until they are sold.