Aviation columnist Robert F. Dorr has a suggestion for one way in which incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta can save a few bucks as a part of his budget-cutting mission: Panetta should ditch the hulking Air Force E-4B, affectionately known around the Palace as "The Doomsday Plane," on which Secretary Gates has logged thousands of miles crisscrossing the globe. It's too big and too expensive, Dorr writes -- and it's pretty worn out anyway -- and Panetta should set a good example for Austerity America by getting something more reasonable.
The E-4B costs about $110,000 an hour to fly, or about four times the operating cost of the C-37A Gulfstream V used by other government executives, according to a source. It was never meant to be a luxury transport.He continues:
Gates uses the E-4B because he loves it. He has spoken glowingly about the plane publicly. The E-4B is a fine aircraft and the members of the 55th [Wing] who operate it do a fine job. But flying high-ranking officials around the world on routine trips isn’t what it was intended to do. Government leaders — and that’s definitely the defense secretary — need to set a good example. No one knows this better than Gates, who has been forceful about eliminating waste.
No one should know better than the incoming defense secretary that it’s time for the gravy plane to stop, especially if he is going to cut $400 billion in defense spending by 2023 as promised by the Obama administration. And the best place for Panetta to start finding savings is in his own office. He needs take a plane intended for flying government officials. He needs to make sure every employee is busy doing legitimate work. The Pentagon’s culture of wanton disregard for public monies truly has to stop. And Panetta can start chipping away at it with one very symbolic move: a wave goodbye to the E-4B.Dorr doesn't mention the utility of having a defense secretary travel with the full load of communications gear, military staffers, reporters and equipment that Gates has been able to take aboard the Doomsday Plane. But he has made a provocative point -- should Panetta give up the beloved E-4B as a symbol of economizing? Or would the savings be so minuscule in the context of the defense budget that they wouldn't be worth the sacrifice in space and capability?