Sat, Sep 02, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Huang defends president's multi-plane flight scheme

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The benefit of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) traveling in the official "Air Force One" jet on his overseas trips outweighs any cost concerns, Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) said yesterday.

Huang made the remarks in response to criticism from a group of pan-blue legislators that Chen's flight arrangements for his upcoming visit to the nation's Pacific allies would be a waste of taxpayers' money.

The Presidential Office had announced that Chen will fly on "Air Force One" on the first leg of his visit to Palau, but that he and his entourage will then fly on charter China Airlines passenger jets from Palau to Nauru and back to Taipei through Guam.

Under the plan, "Air Force One" will fly back to Taipei after Chen arrives in Palau, and an empty China Airlines passenger jet will be used as a replacement. The flight plan was criticized by a group of pan-blue legislators, with Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) saying that it would triple the cost of the trip, to about NT$10 million (US$304,414).

But Huang dismissed those complaints.

"The president's trip on `Air Force One' will have great diplomatic and historical significance," Huang said.

He urged legislators to be more concerned about the significance of Chen's trip than on how much money the flight would cost.

"Using `Air Force One' for the president's overseas flight has extraordinary meaning, which has no price," Huang said.

Presidential Office Spokesman David Lee (李南陽) said on Thursday that flying a China Airlines charter flight, rather than "Air Force One," to stop over in Guam before returning to Taipei was recommended by the US.

Huang said that there was no tension while the government was negotiating the flight details with the US government.

"We didn't plan to fly on `Air Force One' for making a transit in Guam. It was not our initial plan. Now that the US considers it inappropriate for `Air Force One' to make a stopover in Guam, of course we understand that," he said.

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