Trump denies knowledge of Air Force stay at Trump resort in Scotland

In March, an Alaska-based C-17 crew overnighted at the Trump Turnberry resort.

September 10, 2019, 4:19 AM

President Donald Trump is denying any knowledge about a U.S. Air Force C-17 crew overnighting at a Trump family-owned resort in Scotland during a layover in March. The U.S. Air Force is reviewing its overnight lodging guidelines for pilots on layovers after questions were raised about the stay and is also providing more information about a little known aspect of military flying.

"I don't need to have somebody take a room overnight at a hotel," Trump told reporters Monday on the White House South Lawn.

Trump had made a similar claim in a tweet he had posted earlier on Monday.

In March, while enroute to Kuwait, an Alaska-based C-17 had made a refueling stop at Prestwick Airport in Scotland and overnighted at the nearby Trump Turnberry resort.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform complained that it has not received information it requested from the Pentagon about the stay as it tries to determine why the airport has seen an increase in business since Trump took office.

In a June letter to the Pentagon, Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings questioned if stops at Prestwick Airport might be an effort to boost the debt-ridden airport. The airport has faced closure but is the closest airport to Trump's private Turnberry resort.

A senior Democratic Committee aide told ABC News that the Defense Department has not produced a "single document" as part of the investigation.

Trump linked the questions to those about Vice President Mike Pence's recent stay in Ireland at another Trump family-owned resort as he visited his family's ancestral home.

"What is happening is the following," said Trump. "Every time you find a person landing in an airplane within 500 miles of something I own -- Mike Pence, as an example -- his family lives in, he actually told me he stayed there many years ago."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump takes a question from a reporter on the South Lawn of the White House, Sept. 9, 2019, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
President Donald Trump takes a question from a reporter on the South Lawn of the White House, Sept. 9, 2019, before boarding Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
Andrew Harnik/AP

"But he was there before I bought it, I believe, he said. A long time ago," said Trump. "But he was in Ireland and so he said, you know what I will do come I will see my family. I didn't know about that."

Over the weekend the U.S. Air Force announced that Air Mobility Command would review its guidance for the selection of airports and lodging accommodation for air crews during international flights.

"While initial reviews indicate that aircrew transiting through Scotland adhered to all guidance and procedures, we understand that U.S. service members lodging at higher-end accommodations, even if within government rates, might be allowable but not advisable," said Brig. Gen. Edward Thomas, director of Air Force Public Affairs.

"Even when USAF aircrews follow all directives and guidance, we must still be considerate of perceptions of not being good stewards of taxpayer funds that might be created through the appearance of aircrew staying at such locations," he added.

Thomas said the C-17's layover in Glasgow was "not unusual" and that an ongoing review of the trip has found "nothing that falls outside the guidelines associated with selecting stopover airports on travel routes and hotel accommodations for crew rest."

PHOTO: U. S. Airforce plane seen at the Warsaw Airport.
U. S. Airforce plane seen at the Warsaw Airport in Poland.
Jp Black/LightRocket via Getty Images

He told reporters on Monday that the Air Force's review was "due diligence to see if our processes are appropriate, if they're right."

"If we need to make adjustments, we will," said Thomas. "If we find that we're in the right place, then we'll hold the course."

The episode has highlighted a little-known aspect of long-range U.S. military flights. According to U.S. Air Force officials, U.S. military aircraft are authorized to land and refuel at private airports with whom contracts have been arranged. And as long as the aircrews find lodging accommodations that meet multiple criteria, including government rate caps, they could end up staying at what could be considered a high-end property.

Beginning in 2015, the U.S. Air Force contracted with Prestwick Airport in Glasgow, Scotland, to be one of the dozen military and civilian airfields in Europe where aircraft could refuel. Prior to that it had only been a "divert" location if other U.S. military air facilities were unavailable.

Prestwick was chosen because it has better weather than the comparable airport at Shannon, Ireland, and it also operates 24 hours a day -- unlike the two other U.S. Air Force bases in the United Kingdom, which have overnight flight and noise restrictions.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has also negotiated cheaper, fixed jet fuel prices at the airport, comparable to the costs available at a U.S. military base. Citing DLA statistics, Thomas said the per-gallon refueling cost for U.S. military aircraft at Prestwick is $3.38, comparable to the $2.98 at a U.S. airbase, both are which are far cheaper than the $10 per gallon average for commercial aircraft.

Data provided by the Air Force shows that between 2015 and 2019, Air Mobility Command aircraft stopped at Prestwick a total of 936 times, with 659 overnight stays. Those numbers have increased in recent years as more aircraft have made stops at the airport.

Air Force officials do not know how many of those overnight stays occurred at the Turnberry property. They say it would take a complete review of each of those flights to determine the answer.

Aircrews are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to have 12 hours of down time before the next leg of their travel. But their lodging must meet certain criteria that includes, among other things, blackshades for rooms and 24-hour available food service.

"It's got to be suitable, it's got be available, and it's got to be within the cost of the hotel rate," said Thomas.

Another surprising angle is that in some cases air crews are the ones that make their own lodging accommodations using the Defense Travel System. In the March incident, a local agent under contract with the U.S. Government helped with the reservations and indicated that there wasn’t a room available closer to Prestwick.

The Trump property nightly rate of $136 was less expensive than the $161 charged by a nearby Marriott property. Both of those rates were below the per diem rate of $166.

On the return flight from Kuwait, the C-17 crew stayed at the nearby Marriott property.

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