Ford may sell corporate jets

November 21, 2008 6:42:55 PM PST
Ford Motor Co. may sell its fleet of five corporate jets after top executives of the three Detroit automakers were harshly criticized by members of Congress this week for their travel expenses. In a statement issued Friday, Ford said it is exploring all options for the fleet, which it said has been reduced from nine in 2005.

"Ford's top priority is to continue making progress on our transformation plan, and we do not want anything to distract us," spokesman Mark Truby said in a statement. "We are exploring all cost-effective solutions for our air travel."

The announcement comes just days after Ford CEO Alan Mulally, Chrysler LLC CEO Robert Nardelli and General Motors Corp. CEO Rick Wagoner traveled to Washington on separate corporate jets to seek $25 billion in government loans to help them make it through the worst U.S. auto sales downturn in 25 years.

Congress, though, abandoned a vote on the bailout after a disastrous appearance in which the automakers were criticized for lavish corporate travel, as well as for having poor business plans and high labor costs that some members said would keep them from being competitive with Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, said in Washington that "these guys flying in their big corporate jets doesn't send a good message to people in Searchlight, Nev., or Las Vegas or Reno or anyplace in this country."

Corporations typically lease planes, buy them or charter aircraft to transport executives and other employees. Many require executives to travel by corporate jet for security reasons and so they can meet with other executives and do work while traveling.

Truby said that of the five remaining jets, three are used for executive travel, while the other two shuttle employees such as engineers to factories where new products are being launched.

"We have been and continue to look at all of our operations to reduce costs and operate more efficiently," he said.

GM said Thursday that it was in the process of returning two of its five leased corporate jets to the leasing company.

Spokesman Tom Wilkinson said the company planned to return the jets because travel spending had been cut. The jets were scheduled to be returned even before the automakers were criticized in Washington, he said.

"It would have been done anyway," Wilkinson said. "It's just the travel cutbacks have been so severe. It's just not being used."

GM started the year with seven leased jets but returned two of them in September, Wilkinson said.

Chrysler spokesman David Elshoff would not comment on its jets.

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Associated Press writer Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.


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