Peter MacKay has racked up nearly $3 million worth of flights on the government's Challenger jets since assuming the role of defence minister in 2007, documents obtained by CTV News reveal.

A probe into MacKay's use of the jets shows that he is the government minister with the most frequent flyer miles aboard the exclusive Challenger fleet.

The total cost of MacKay's 35 flights amount to $2,927,738.70. Challenger flight logs were obtained through an Access to Information request.

The flight logs show that MacKay has flown a total of 247 hours aboard the aircraft, far more than his ministerial counterparts at Foreign Affairs and Finance.

In 2009, MacKay flew 96 hours aboard the Challenger, compared to 59.5 hours for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, and 27.6 hours for then-foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon.

Last year, MacKay logged 79 hours on the jets, which was the highest of any minister. Flaherty, by contrast, clocked 10.4 hours.

Responding to the flight logs, a spokesperson for MacKay said that the minister used the jets for official purposes.

"In approximately 50 per cent of the total challenger flights minister MacKay has taken, he has taken these flights to attend the repatriation of fallen military personnel," spokesman Jay Paxton told CTV News in an email.

"The use of government aircraft occurs when commercial travel is not feasible and where other substantial savings can be incurred while conducting government business," he added.

Paxton also said that the current government has decreased the use of military aircraft for ministerial travel "by over 80 per cent from the last years of the previous Liberal government."

However, documents show that out of 35 flights, only nine were for repatriation ceremonies. In fact, many of the flights were for press conferences and political announcements.

The NDP's Jack Harris said that MacKay likely had options when he chose to travel aboard the VIP jets.

"Clearly, these are not matters that require an emergency priority use of a government aircraft," he said.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter said that MacKay's five-year jet tab is "shocking" and is more than any regular person could rack up in decades.

"Here you have the minister of defence using the Challenger as if it was his own personal taxi," he said.

None of MacKay's flights were to Afghanistan, and 25 of 35 were domestic flights.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not permitted to fly commercially due to security reasons, he is the only other senior member of government to amass more time aboard official jets than MacKay.

In fact, during some months, MacKay's jet use outstrips that of the prime minister, documents show.

Since 2007, here are MacKay's jet flight statistics, accompanied with the percentage of the total number of hours flown by all ministers.

  • 2007: 20 hours, 43 per cent
  • 2008: 39.9 hours, 17 per cent
  • 2009: 96 hours, 34 per cent
  • 2010: 79.4 hours, 60 per cent
  • 2011: 11.7, 32 per cent

MacKay was recently criticized after CTV revealed that the minister had a Cormorant chopper pick him up at a salmon fishing lodge at the end of a vacation. MacKay said that the 30-minute flight aboard the search-and-rescue helicopter in Newfoundland was a training exercise.

Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff, has also been criticized for his use of the Challenger jets, after it was discovered that his flights have cost taxpayers $1 million over the past three years.

On one flight, Natynczyk used a Challenger so he could join his family on vacation in St. Maarten. Earlier this month, Natynczyk said that he was open to repaying the cost of a commercial ticket if the Prime Minister's Office deemed it necessary.