Romanian president’s visit to Asia sparks presidential aircraft debate
President Klaus Iohannis’ recent visit to Japan and Singapore, for which the Presidential Administration rented a private Boeing aircraft from a Luxembourgish company, sparked a debate around the need for a dedicated Romanian presidential aircraft.
Lacking an official aircraft for state officials, Romania is a rare case in the European Union and even in the region. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary each have an Airbus for official use, while Poland has a Boeing, according to Digi24.
It has been no less than ten years since Romania had an official aircraft to serve dignitaries, particularly the president and prime minister.
The Boeing 707 that late communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and the next three presidents used was sold a decade ago amid a conflict between then-president Traian Basescu and transport minister Relu Fenechiu. The former presidential aircraft was then converted into a flying tanker and is currently used for the US military. The company that purchased it from Romania, Omega Air, provides in-flight refueling services for the Pentagon.
Since then, Romania's presidents have rented aircraft when traveling abroad, often from national carrier TAROM. President Iohannis prefers to travel on private aircraft. In recent years, the head of state has also refused to allow the press to travel on the presidential aircraft, although he did so in the first part of his term, according to Euronews.
The presidential administration also rented a plane for the president's recent visit to Japan and Singapore.
"Romania needs a presidential aircraft," said the current minister of transport, Sorin Grindeanu. “A matter that, in my opinion, the Romanian state must resolve, and I take responsibility for it, even if it will attract criticism. Just like other countries in the world have an official aircraft, I believe that the Romanian state also needs one to serve the presidential administration, the government, and other institutions," he added.
Minister Grindeanu also said that the subject has been avoided until now because no politician wants to be seen adding expenses to the state budget.
In reply, opposition senator Silvia Dinică claims that the presidential administration avoids making public the costs of the president's trips. "I haven't seen the costs associated with this trip. This is not the first time that the presidential administration has been opaque about the cost of this trip. I believe they should explain the diplomatic gain in these trips,” she said.
The presidential administration stated in a response to Digi24 that securing air transportation for president Iohannis during the official visits to Japan and Singapore was based on a service contract for special flights concluded according to a regulation approved by government decision. At the same time, the institution noted that the type of aircraft and the costs of this trip cannot be made public because they are "classified information.”
Last year, president Klaus Iohannis doubled his expenses for trips abroad, compared to 2021. The presidential administration spent EUR 3.3 mln on trips abroad in 2022, more than double the EUR 1.5 mln spent in 2021. The most frequent foreign visits were made to Brussels, but also to Paris, London, New York, and San Francisco.