Public portrait of Sarkozy’s A330: French “GAO” flags cost overrun

 - October 3, 2011, 12:10 AM
The Airbus A330-200 French president Nicholas Sarkozy has been using ran €33.2 million over budget.

The refurbishment of a government Airbus A330-200 (used mainly for the president) ran €33.2 million (about $46 million) over budget, according to a recent report from the “Cour des comptes,” the French equivalent of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Replacement of the engines and interior upgrades are listed as the primary reasons for the cost overrun.

The A330 replaces two A319CJs that did not have enough range for President Nicolas Sarkozy. Three companies–Airbus, Air France Industries and Sabena Technics–bid for the contract, which included finding a used aircraft and refurbishing it. The report explains that the first two firms, convinced the contract would be financially too risky, soon withdrew. Airbus and Air France were also unsure whether they would be able to find a suitable used aircraft in time. Ten months elapsed from the first talks with the bidding companies to the formal contract signature in 2008.

Even before the refurbishment began, the aircraft was already too expensive, according to the report. The French government purchased the 1998 A330 for €50 million ($70 million), a sum that should have bought a much newer aircraft, says the report. Interior items for the comfort of the president and his staff added more cost. The French president’s staff requested that the ovens be able to grill (not only warm) food. In addition, they wanted the window shades to be actuated by electric motors. Finally, they called for a door to be deactivated and replaced by a stowage space with accompanying thermal and acoustic insulation. All this cost around €2.2 million ($3 million). The window shades have security implications, the report acknowledges, but the agency questions the other pieces of additional equipment, given their price.

More critical maybe, the engines were a focus of Sarkozy’s team. In 2008 and 2009, the A319CJs experienced two engine failures, so reliable engines were deemed essential for the new aircraft. The Ministry of Defense elected to sell the older engines and replace them with new ones. The net cost of the two Pratt & Whitney turbofans was €23.4 million ($33 million).

The aircraft, with its final price tag of €259.5 million ($363 million), was handed over last November, just a few months behind schedule. After flaying the program for its cost excesses, however, the report does acknowledge that “This is a notable performance,” especially compared to other defense procurement programs. The Ministry of Defense was in charge of acquiring the aircraft and the French air force (Armée de l'Air) is now operating it.

The two A319CJs were sold for a total of €62 million ($87 million).