Congress drops plan to spend $550 million on new jets

An Air Force presidential aircraft, part of the fleet used by U.S. presidents, is pictured above the Statue of Liberty in New York, in this photograph released to Reuters on May 8, 2009. REUTERS/The White House/Handout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House leaders have dropped plans to spend $550 million in the Air Force budget on passenger jets used by lawmakers and senior government officials, officials said on Monday.

The House of Representatives reversed the move to upgrade the executive jet fleet after public criticism, opposition from other lawmakers and the Defense Department had said it did not need more planes that it had requested.

“If the Department of Defense does not want these aircraft, they will be eliminated from the bill,” Representative John Murtha, chairman of a House panel on defense appropriations, said in a statement.

A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she supports the decision.

Before leaving for the August congressional recess, the House approved a Defense Appropriation bill for fiscal year 2010 that included $550 million for three Gulfstream jets and five military versions of a Boeing 737.

The Pentagon’s original request was $220 million to purchase one Gulfstream plane and three Boeing Co. aircraft.

Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the four additional planes his subcommittee ordered would have replaced older aircraft that have safety and maintenance issues.