Flying Magnotta on a private jet? It might have saved us over $200,000

Back-of-the-envelope accounting about the costs of repatriating the Canadian fugitive

Left: an Airbus CC-150 Polaris (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) ; Right: a Gulfstream 350 (Photo: PrivateFly)

The next time Canadian authorities have to extradite a high-profile fugitive from a distant country, I suggest they do a little comparison shopping first.

I’m referring, of course, to the $375,000 (and counting) tab for getting accused cannibal killer/dismemberment murderer Luka Rocco Magnotta back to Canada from Germany in June.

Part of the bill was for hotel accommodation and “catering” in Montreal and Berlin for the eight Canadian public employees (two military flight crew members and six Montreal police officers) who flew to Germany and returned with a ninth Canadian, the aforementioned Magnotta. Those expenses are not wildly unreasonable, although the $2,000 bill for “catering” in Berlin works out to $250 per Canadian public employee—a little steep for dinner and breakfast when you consider they were in Berlin for 12 hours. Maybe box lunches for the return flight were thrown in by the caterers as well. Who knows.

The hospitality expenses are mere chicken feed, however, compared to the $370,570 transportation bill taxpayers are apparently being dinged with for the expedition.

A look at the hourly price tag:

According to federal documents obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, that $370,570 total is based on an estimated operating hourly rate of $15,505 assessed by the Royal Canadian Air Force for 23.9 hours of flight time logged by the Airbus CC-150 Polaris aircraft employed in the venture.

Now, that seems awfully high to me for a round trip across the Atlantic. I’ll be making the same journey in less than a week for somewhere closer to $400 return (when you knock off taxes). It just doesn’t make sense that it would cost almost 1,000 times as much to fly Luka Magnotta across the same body of water.

At the time arrangements were being made to extradite Magnotta, the Globe and Mail quoted a Montreal police spokeswoman saying, “We made checks and there was no interest from commercial airlines.”

Apparently the necessity to clear out “a complete section” of a commercial airliner to accommodate the accused killer and his guards was just too much to contemplate. (Not naming any particular Canadian airline, but I’ve been on trans-Atlantic flights where the entire business-class compartment could be freed up by moving two or three people up to first class.)

But even if a regular commercial flight was out, why the gargantuan leap to a military Airbus at the cost of $15,505 an hour?

According to the documents CP unearthed, the request for military help came from Public Safety Canada, the federal government’s catchall law enforcement department headed by Minister Vic Toews.

Did Public Safety ever consider renting private aircraft instead?

Just to put my fevered mind at rest, I checked how much that would have cost for the same flight earlier today.

There are plenty of private jet charters out there, but the one I used was PrivateFly, a British company that acts as a clearinghouse for 7,000 charter aircraft worldwide and says it can arrange “the best available private aircraft at the most competitive, transparent market price” within 90 minutes.

Looking through the list of long-range jets offered by PrivateFly, I settled on a Gulfstream 350, which, the website states, “has the ability to carry 8 passengers, travel 3800 nautical miles at Mach 0.8 and cruise at 45,000 feet. It can handle domestic jaunts and transcontinental flights with equal ease.”

The Gulfstream 350 was actually built to accommodate 13 passengers, but PrivateFly’s version obviously gives you a little more legroom — an important feature if you’re wearing manacles and legirons, I would think.

Montreal to Berlin is within the Gulfstream 350’s range on a tank of gas and its 410-knot speed (that’s about 758 km an hour) would make it an eight-hour flight, give or take an hour (depending on weather and headwinds).

And the price?

According to Private Fly, the average cost is $7,030 per flying hour.

That’s a big step back from $15,505 an hour.

I’m sure there are add-ons and other costs to factor in, but nothing that would come close to doubling the cost of the charter.

Flying hours:

Another puzzling question are the flying hours that are being billed to Canadian taxpayers on account of the military Airbus.

Even if you want to make the flight time between Berlin and Montreal 10 hours each way just to be on the safe side, you’re talking a $140,000 bill—not a $370,000 bill. (Just imagine the police overtime that could be paid with that extra $230,000!)

The 23.9 hours of flying time billed by the RCAF for its Airbus included flight time from Cold Lake, Alberta, to Montreal before the trans-Atlantic hop and from Montreal to Trenton, Ontario, after the delivery, according to the documents obtained by CP.

Now, the RCAF’s five converted Airbus transports—including the VIP version used to extradite Magnotta—are operated by 437 Squadron based at CFB Trenton. So I’m not really sure why the Department of National Defence would get to charge for the Cold Lake-Montreal leg of the journey when the aircraft’s home base is within spitting distance of Montreal (in aviation terms).

Picking up the bill:

And who exactly will pay for all this? It will be interesting to see.

The parties involved seem to be Service de police de la Ville de Montreal (which headed the murder investigation and sent six members of its force to Berlin to get Magnotta), Surete de Quebec (because they were involved in the overall Magnotta investigation and fugitive hunt), the RCMP (because Magnotta is charged with mailing body parts and criminally harassing Stephen Harper and other Members of Parliament), Public Safety Canada, the Department of National Defence and the Attorney General of Canada (because he is responsible for international extraditions, according to the Extradition Act of 1999).

My suspicion is that, after a certain amount of horse trading, Harper will tell the various federal departments involved to each pick up a share of the transportation tab, while the Montreal police will foot the bill for the six officers’ overtime and victualing in Berlin.

If there’s one bright spot in all this—apart from the important fact that Luka Magnotta is back in a Canadian jail cell and preparing for trial in a few months—it’s that the Canadian military is apparently learning how to pay for itself.

It’s too much to think the forces will actually become a profit centre, but profit margin now seems to be as relevant as mission when it comes to strategic planning.

Can the day of the $748 pliers (U.S. Air Force) and the $640 toilet seat (U.S. Navy) be far away for the RCAF and Royal Canadian Navy?

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