December 15, 2018 / 3:01 PM / a month ago

Germany weighing new government jet after Buenos Aires debacle

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump during the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - It was a vivid illustration of the gap between Germany’s foreign policy ambitions and its real means: Chancellor Angela Merkel arriving late, on a scheduled flight, to a crucial summit of world leaders because the government jet had broken down.

Stung by Merkel’s failure to make the beginning of the Buenos Aires G20 summit on Nov 30, Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen announced plans to buy another jet and boost the staffing of the air force VIP transport wing.

In an interview with newspaper Bild am Sonntag (BamS), extracts of which were released on Saturday, Von der Leyen said the government would set aside up to 300 million euros to add another long-range aircraft to the existing Airbus fleet.

“That the Chancellor arrived late to the G20 summit was bitter,” she said. “To stop that happening again, we are expanding crews and looking at buying one or two further long-range aircraft.”

Merkel’s flight to the summit of leaders of developed and emerging economy leaders was aborted an hour after take-off when communications systems failed aboard her A340 wide-bodied jet, forcing her to fly first class via Madrid the following day.

A switch to the air force’s other long-range jet was impossible because the crew had already reached their maximum number of flying hours and no replacement shift was available.

Unlike many other major countries, Germany relies on a fleet of aging used jets to ferry its leaders around the world, reflecting a traditionally cautious approach to military procurement.

Across the armed forces, levels of deployability among military vehicles is low, with aircraft and tanks often out of service for repairs. Successive defence ministers have sought to change this, but have struggled in a country where the post-war culture of pacificism runs deep.

According to BamS, officers aim to buy at least one further long-range aircraft, probably a used A330 or, in a break with the tradition, a modern A350 fresh off the production line.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Editing by William Maclean

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