Transport secretary Grant Shapps has squirmed at questions about his private jet being registered in the US after accusations he was undermining the British system.
Concern about foreign-registered planes in the UK were raised after it emerged the aircraft and pilot involved in the crash which killed footballer Emiliano Sala in January 2019 were licensed in the US.
Although it is not illegal, it has raised questions from opposition MPs concerned that Shapps was setting a precedent for other private jet owners.
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But after being asked about the reports, the minister initially laughed off the question.
‘If you fly a plane on American register it still has to be maintained by British engineers,’ he told Sky News.
But asked if it was to the same standards, he squirmed, telling Kay Burley: ‘To the same standard… Well… There are a variety of… The main thing people say on the US register is it’s permissible to do some of the engineering yourself. Well I have to say something I’ve never personally attempted’.
Asked why bother, he said: ‘I didn’t, it’s like if you’ve got a car and it was on a French plate, would you change the plate.’
Pressed on whether he was undermining British rules, he simply said: ‘I’ve never registered the aircraft on any register at all.’
Planes in countries around the world are registered with US regulator the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Aircraft-Trust, a firm which helps pilots based outside the US register their aircraft through the American system, states that the requirements of the FAA are ‘less bureaucratic’ than those in Europe.
Benefits include allowing pilots to carry out more maintenance tasks themselves and fewer time limits on aircraft parts, according to the company.
Twitter was unimpressed with Shapps’ defence of the story.
Sarah Bowles wrote: ‘If you buy a car on a French plate and intend to keep it here you have to import it and change the plate among other things! The same applies if you buy a car on the U.K. and import it to France. The ignorance of our transport secretary knows no bounds.’
Mike Noonan tweeted: ‘Transport secretary who doesn’t know that there’s a time limit on driving with foreign plates.’
Tim Walker posted: ‘I don’t remember any ruling metropolitan elite being quite so out of touch and living quite such a high life.’
Another quipped: ‘It’s Michael Green’s plane obviously.’