After the plane he was flying in was forced to make an emergency landing, German Foreign Minister Fischer has called for new jets for top politicians.
Frequent flyer Fischer wants new planes
As Germans face high unemployment, rising heath insurance costs and cuts to pensions and social welfare benefits, the government wanted to wait until after the general election in 2006 to take up the issue of the aging fleet of airplanes that ferry the country's top politicians around the world.
But Joschka Fischer can't wait. "What more has to happen before the VIP squadron gets new planes?" he asked at a cabinet meeting shortly after being subjected to an emergency landing of one of the state's Challenger jets when the plane started smoking. "Will I have to be laid out in a coffin in the foreign ministry's World Hall first?" Der Spiegel weekly quoted the diplomat as saying.
Admittedly, Germany's VIP fleet -- in the service of the president, chancellor, cabinet, parliamentary and party leaders -- is getting a bit long in the tooth. The six "Challenger" small- and mid-range jets have been flying for nearly 20 years and the seven Airbus A310s are only slightly younger. Three of them were inherited from East Germany's state airlines in 1990 and the others were second-hand purchases from Lufthansa around the same time.
A "Challenger" jet, such as the one Fischer was in that had to make an emergency landing
But Fischer isn't the only one unhappy with the old planes. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Defense Minister Peter Struck are well acquainted with the fleet's weaknesses. When the plane he was set to fly on was revealed to be defect, the chancellor recently snapped up the jet Struck had booked right out from under the minister's feet. Struck had to wait a long time for a military transporter to finally pick him up, according to Der Spiegel.
And it's not just government members who would rather shun the planes. Opposition CDU politician Volker Rühe, head of parliament's foreign policy committee last week said the VIP squadron had apparently reached the limits and alternatives, such as leasing new planes, should be examined. "We have to act before something happens," Christian Socialist defense expert Christian Schmidt told Bild newspaper.
Schröder doesn't always have so much company on VIP flights
Germany's business community isn't keen on the VIP fleet either. On a return trip from Asia last year, Schröder found himself in a half-full plane. Many of the top German managers in the chancellor's entourage, including Siemens CEO Heinrich von Pierer and then German Industry Association chief Michael Rogowski, chose to fly home with Lufthansa rather then hitch a ride with Schröder.
Von Pierer has called the state planes unacceptable, while another manager complained that one of the toilet doors didn't close properly.
A German government plane
But experts in the defense ministry, which is responsible for the VIP fleet, have said that there's currently no need to replace the planes, according to Die Welt daily. The fleet is in a "technically good to very good condition," the ministry said in a report.
Still, Schröder is said to have asked frequent flyer Fischer and Struck -- notorious for his tight hold on his ministry's purse strings -- to get together and discuss the matter.