The cost of transporting the Taoiseach and other ministers around the globe on the Government jet reached almost €1m last year at an average cost of over €18,600 per trip.
Figures published by the Department of Defence show the total cost of missions flown by Leo Varadkar, other members of the Cabinet, ministers of state, and officials increased by 27% in 2018 and exceeded €1.04m when use of the Air Corps fixed-wing Casa aircraft and helicopter by members of the Government were taken into account.
A total of 52 missions were flown on the Learjet in 2018, with the Casa aircraft being used for three flights. The Taoiseach also used the Air Corps helicopter on one occasion last year, to fly to the Aran Islands in September.
Under Government guidelines, use of the Learjet should be limited to exceptional occasions where alternative commercial flights are not available.
Mr Varadkar made the most use of the government jet — travelling on the aircraft on 19 occasions — as well as twice using the Casa, while the Learjet was being serviced. His longest mission was a four-day visit to Croatia, Romania, and Italy in July for talks with several European leaders on Brexit and other issues which involved over 10 hours of flying time and stops in Zagreb, Bucharest, Venice, and Rome at an estimated cost of €39,000.
The total cost of all travel provided by the Department of Defence’s Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) last year was an estimated €1,044,893, including €967,362 for the Learjet.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe took 13 flights on the Government jet, including several trips to Brussels but also visits to Vienna, Sofia, Berlin, Zurich, Paris, and Luxembourg.
Although the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, took fewer trips — 12, including one on the Casa aircraft — he clocked up the most air miles as a result of two trips to the Middle East during 2018.
The longest mission flown by the Learjet last year was a six-day trip by Mr Coveney to the Middle East with stop-offs in Cairo, Tel Aviv, Naples, Birmingham, and the RAF military base in Northolt in Britain involving total flight time of almost 15 hours at a cost of €56,385.
The shortest mission was an 85-minute round trip flight to the Isle of Man by the Taoiseach in November to attend a summit of the British-Irish Council.
The 56 missions flown under MATS last year compared to 52 in 2017 and 44 in 2016. Members of the Government spent almost 254 hours in the air on the Learjet in 2018. The average cost of using the Learjet is estimated at €3,780 per hour.
A Department of Defence spokesperson said the hourly cost, unchanged since 2015, was due to be updated. It said MATS provides the Government and the President with an independent, flexible and effective air transport service to meet their national and international obligations.
The department said the service was more flexible than commercial air travel as it was not bound to set routes, timetables or schedules. It said there were frequent occasions where EU meetings ran over schedule or where ministers were required to return to attend important meetings or events in Ireland, such as Cabinet meetings or Oireachtas debates.