French air force chief accused of using fighter jet for weekend jaunts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 1:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 9:24pm

The distance by road from Bordeaux, in the south-west of France, to the attractive town of Salon-de-Provence in the south-east is 600km, a journey that with luck and an absence of traffic jams will take between five and six hours.

The train takes at least seven, and a commercial flight just over one, plus a half-hour drive from Marseille airport. So for weekends away at his country home in Provence, the acting commander-in-chief of the French air force took a fighter jet instead, according to the investigative and satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné.

Le Canard reported that General Richard Reboul has requisitioned an air force Alpha jet on “about 10 occasions” since August to fly from his training academy base in Bordeaux to his country property near Salon-de-Provence and back.

“Information on the improper use of air force resources by a senior military officer has come to the attention of the minister,” the defence ministry in Paris said on Tuesday, announcing a full inquiry into the allegations.

The inquiry will “clarify the facts and verify the circumstances of such use, both in this case and generally”, and allow the defence minister, Florence Parly, to “draw the necessary conclusions, including those of a disciplinary nature”, the ministry said in a statement.

The air force has also opened an internal investigation after the Canard’s suggestion that as recently as last weekend, Reboul “borrowed” a six-seater TBM-400 transport plane, complete with pilot and copilot, for the same journey.

Made by France’s Dassault and Germany’s Dornier, the Alpha jet is a light attack and advanced trainer aircraft used by the French air force aerobatic display team, La Patrouille de France, and to train fighter pilots. It has a top speed of 1,000km/h and guzzles about 800 litres of fuel per hour.

French media calculated that with the advanced jet fuel the aircraft runs on, each one of the general’s weekends away cost the air force – and the taxpayer – between 14,000 euros (US$15,960) and 16,000 euros. A return train or low-cost airline fare would reportedly cost less than 200 euros.

Reboul, a former fighter pilot and test pilot with a hitherto unblemished record, was appointed second-in-command of France’s 23,000-strong air force last September and became acting commander-in-chief in May after the death his senior officer.

The alleged case is far from the first in which a French official has been accused of abuse of public funds. In 2015, Agnès Saal, the head of the INA national TV and radio archives, was forced to resign after clocking up about 40,000 euros in taxi fares in just 10 months.

Suspended from the civil service by presidential decree, she was, however, back at the culture ministry six months later.