Cost of Sununu's trips detailed Bush orders review of policy Price often far higher than commercial fares

April 25, 1991|By Peter Honey and Richard H. P. Sia | Peter Honey and Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu and his wife, Nancy, chartered a military jet for an "official" three-day trip to the ski slopes of Aspen, Colo., in December, for which taxpayers shelled out about $25,000, or 10 times more than if they had flown a commercial airline, governmentrecords show.

A trip to New Jersey for a football game and a farewell to Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean cost the government almost $4,000. Mr. Sununu declared it a "personal" trip and reimbursed $200, which was meant to be the equivalent of a commercial coach fare.

Whether any of his four unidentified companions on the flight home paid for their seats is unclear, but a round-trip fare today could cost as much as $406 a person.

These are just some of the 77 trips on military aircraft -- virtually all aboard a comfortable 14-seat jet -- that the president's right-hand man has made over the last 27 months.

Mr. Sununu's excursions, by using military flights -- often with him as the sole passenger -- instead of scheduled airlines, may have tapped $500,000 from federal coffers, according to unofficial published estimates. No official estimate has been made public, and without such details as the circumstances of each trip, the chief of staff's schedule andthe availability of alternative commercial flights, the full cost to the public remains unknown.

Four of the trips, by his own admission, were "personal," although he brought his wife or family along on 17 "official" or "political" forays as well. President Bush directed the White House staff to release the travel records this week after disclosures appeared in the national news media.

The records show that Mr. Sununu paid back $17,578 for the 21 personal and family trips that are estimated to have cost the government more than $108,000 -- a figure based on estimated flying time, aircraft speed and other data provided by the Air Force and the travel industry.

Mr. Sununu made the payments to comply with a 1987 White House directive that allowed him to use the military planes for private as well as public business but required him to pay "regular commercial fare plus $1.00" for all unofficial travel and guests.

Mr. Sununu's aircraft of choice,the C-20B, is the military version of the Gulfstream III, a twin-engine turbofan aircraft that the Air Force said it purchased "to fill the mission of Department of Defense officials and other high-ranking government personnel."

He has generally traveled aboard one of the seven jets assigned to the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base.

Since Oct. 1, the Air Force has calculated the cost of flying a C-20B jet at $3,945 an hour, a figure that officials said includes maintenance,fuel and updated equipment expenses but not the salaries of the five-member crew. During the previous fiscal year, the hourly cost was $1,892, said Air Force Capt. George Sillia.

A schedule of Mr. Sununu's travel since April 16, 1989, provided by the White House, lists the date, brief itinerary, reasons and category of trip, and whether he reimbursed for unofficial flights and guests.

It does not always match Pentagon flight logs for the jets.

He left on the visit to New Jerseyin January 1990 with one unidentified companion and, after watching the New York Giants play the Los Angeles Rams, returned with three more passengers.

Air Force and White House spokesmen said they were unable to identify the passengers yesterday.

His ski trip with his wife to Colorado in December, and another a year earlier, were designated official trips because Mr. Sununu had been invited to speak to a ski industry convention sponsored by the Times Mirror publishing group.

He paid $2,022 for his wife to accompany him both times.

On a New Hampshire trip in February 1990, he and family members took a military flight to Laconia for an annual charity ski tournament he helps sponsor in the name of Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Challenger shuttle accident.

He paid $845 to cover the six co-passengers on the flight up and the seven who returned with him.

Air Force crews flew two separate trips for the Sununu party: returning to Andrews Air Force Base after dropping them off and flying back to pick them up three days later.

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