More than $1M spent on VIP flights for Natynczyk since 2008
CTV News Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and Field Producer Philip Ling
Published Thursday, September 15, 2011 11:17PM EDT
OTTAWA- Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk has spent more than $1 million since 2008 flying on government VIP aircraft as an expensive alternative to regular commercial flights -- travelling to sporting events and fundraising dinners, as well as a trip to join his family on a cruise vacation in the Caribbean.
Passenger logs obtained by CTV News under the Access to Information Act show that in January 2010, Natynczyk used a CC-144 Challenger to fly to St. Maarten Island in the Caribbean to begin a vacation. He attended a repatriation ceremony a day earlier in Trenton, Ont., and missed his flight for a cruise holiday with his family.
The VIP aircraft flew Natynczyk to St. Maarten on January 4, the log showed. After dropping the defence chief off for his vacation, the jet left the island 75 minutes later -- empty -- to return to its base in Ottawa.
The Challenger cost $10,104 per flying hour to operate in 2009/2010, National Defence figures show. At 9.2 hours, the return trip between the St. Maarten Island and Canada cost $92,956.80.
Natynczyk is in Europe this week for a NATO meeting and was unavailable to comment.
His spokesman, Lt.-Col. Norbert Cyr, defended the cost, saying in a written statement that Natynczyk "was authorized to use a Challenger aircraft to join his family, who were already sailing aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean."
The trip, Cyr says, was "not deemed to be a personal trip as the vacation delay was service-related."
Natynczyk's spokesman added that the trip allowed the defence chief to spend Christmas with his family for the first time in three years.
Trips to NHL, CFL games
The defence documents also show that more than $1 million was spent transporting Natynczyk to National Hockey League and Canadian Football League games, as well as fundraising dinners and galas in major cities across Canada.
On January 3, 2009, Natynczyk, his wife Leslie, and their children John, Margaret and William flew to Toronto from Ottawa for a Toronto Maple Leafs game in appreciation of the military. The family performed the ceremonial puck drop at the Leafs' third annual Canadian Forces Appreciation Night.
The flight for the family -- less than an hour each way -- cost $23,231.30.
A return Air Canada flight is $1,303.17 on executive class.
$395,655.90 was spent going to six NHL games over three years, CTV's analysis of the documents show, and another $336,710.60 going to CFL games, including $121,550.70 for a trip to the 2010 Grey Cup in Edmonton.
NDP MP Pat Martin says Natynczyk's decision to use the VIP aircraft to the sporting events is "appalling."
"Nobody would question the chief of our Armed Forces for flying around on military business," Martin told CTV News in Quebec City. "But you'd have to wonder, 'Is it worth $100,000 for us to have a general make a guest appearance at a hockey game?' "
Natynczyk's office says in a statement that it is "important to note that (Natynczyk) attends official Canadian Forces Appreciation events and official ceremonies on behalf of the Canadian Forces."
He "makes every effort to use commercial flights whenever available and where his official travel schedule permits," the statement says.
While commercial airlines fly to the destinations Natynczyk travelled to, "commercial travel often doesn't provide the flexibility (he) needed."
The Challenger jets have also taken Natynczyk to military fundraisers throughout Canada over the last two years.
Among others, his flight to attend the Support Our Troops Gala in Edmonton in September 2009 cost $79,822.
Flights for Natynczyk to attend three dinners held by the True Patriot Love Foundation totalled more than $170,000: $19,198 in 2009 and $25,062 in 2010 in Toronto, and $127,816 in Vancouver this March.
Taxpayers also paid more than $200,000 for Natynczyk and his wife to fly from Ottawa to the Calgary Stampede in 2010.
Records showed that the Challenger dropped him off in Calgary, flew back empty to Ottawa hours later, and then returned to Calgary three days later -- empty again -- to pick them up.
Unlike the prime minister and the governor general, the chief of the defence staff is not required to fly on a Challenger jet for security reasons.
Natynczyk's office contends that he is working with his command team during the travel time in a Challenger, which includes a secure communication link while in the air.
There are six aircraft in the CC-144 Challenger fleet of twin-engine, long-range executive jets operated by the air force.