Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s administration could be termed the “Aircraft Administration.” Kirchner and her squabbling family have an addiction for state-run jets as their preferred transportation method. Recently, the aircraft have been shuttling around provincial governors and officials with title but no power, around the country. The trips take place in luxurious aircraft while the people they were elected to serve suffer economic shortcomings. The economic crisis, the worst in over a decade, has left many poor without the ability to buy food.
Kirchner’s presidential fleet consists of three jet planes and a trio of choppers. A Boeing 757-200, call sign “Tango One,” is one of the southern hemisphere’s most luxurious aircraft. Tango One is followed by two Fokker F28 Fellowship planes called Tango Two and Tango Three.
Kirchner’s main chopper is a Sikorsky S70 and two Sikorsky S76Bs. According to Argentina Decree #648/04, the sitting president, and her family, can use the fleet for any trip they feel is suitable. A ride to the beach in Rio? No problem for Kirchner’s son, “Maximo.” Who cares if the Argentine’s being flown over have been forgotten by the very president whom they support.
On March 23, 2013, at a quarter-to-ten in the morning, Tango Two landed at Rio Gallegos. Having left Buenos Aires just a short while before, the plane had a single passenger and copies of national newspapers for Kirchner. At ten minutes past eleven, the plane took off for a return flight to Buenos Aires. Kirchner typically dispatches the plane when she’s at her home in Rio Gallegos or El Calafate. So, in the day of Internet, why do Argentines have to foot the bill for newspaper deliveries? Kirchner prefers to read the newspapers in print and not online. The entire trip, from Buenos Aires to Rio Gallegos and back, takes six hours.
On June 10, 2012, Kirchner rushed back from Rio Gallegos to Buenos Aires on Tango One because of a minor situation with her son’s health. Maximo Kirchner, who is 37 and not a boy of seven, was picked up by mommy at the airport in Buenos Aires and flown back with her to Rio Gallegos. The plane wasn’t even on the tarmac long enough in Buenos Aires for the pilots to turn the engines off or use the restroom.
April 9, 2010, saw Tango One land in Rio Gallegos with just one passenger. Florencia Kirchner, 24. Florencia, President Kirchner’s daughter, flew from Buenos Aires to attend a birthday party for a friend. The plane costs $5,000 (USD) per hour to operate. The reader can do the math on what it cost Argentines to cover the expense for the air-taxi to the birthday party.
When Kirchner is at her home in Buenos Aires, she travels by helicopter from the official residence in Olivos to the Casa Rosada which is the administrative seat of the executive branch of Argentine government. By driving straight up Cabilldo Avenue to Santa Fe, the trip is nine miles and takes about 20 minutes even in Buenos Aires traffic. Kirchner, however, prefers to make the trip by helicopter.
The fondness for fancy, airborne shuttle services, doesn’t stop with Kirchner. Argentine governors are following the aeronautic hobby that Kirchner has set. The Lieutenant Governor of Buenos Aires province, Gabriel Mariotto, makes regular use of his official helicopter for routine, private trips within the province. Mariotto also has a tendency to use the park at the University of Lomas de Zamora as his private helipad.
The Governor of Misiones, Maurice Closs, has also been bitten by the bug to travel in state provided aircraft. Closs takes the provincial emergency chopper out regularly for a spin. When singer Ricardo Arjona was in town, Closs loaded Arjona up in the helicopter and gave the singer a flight over Iguazu Falls. Tucuman, capital of Misiones province, has two aircraft for medical and emergency use. Neither one, a Cessna Citation or a modern Learjet, appear to be available when they are needed for medical emergencies.
In January 2011, a citizen was involved in an accident and needed to be taken to the hospital immediately. The medical emergency personnel could not get the patient to a medical facility in a timely manner. The governor was using the plane to spend the summer in Punta del Este with his family.
In Chaco, one of the poorest provinces in Argentina, Governor Jorge Capitanich routinely uses a Learjet 60 to travel around. Per capita income in Chaco is about $2,400 (USD) a year. Recently, Capitanich took the jet to Mendoza to pick up some wine for a dinner he was giving for “honored” guests. A few days later, Capitanich took his daughters to Panama to spend two days on a pleasure trip.
While Argentina is going from financial crisis to financial crisis, the use of the aircraft is starting to be noticed by the public and is raising concerns. While Kirchner had to take a break from flying following her “surgery” last fall, she has restarted the flights and is seen hovering around the capital city frequently.
While no one is denying the need for a governmental fleet, the luxury and abuse of the fleet in Argentina is way beyond the everyday reality of Argentines. Some are suggesting that the leaders get their heads out of the clouds and plant their feet on the ground so they can better appreciate the reality of the citizens they claim to “love” so much.
In the meantime, the Argentina leaders continue to fly high over, and look down on, the very citizens who put them in office to begin with.
Editorial By Jerry Nelson