Top Google executives seem to have a penchant for travel on their private jet fleet to exotic locales in the Pacific Ocean, such as Tahiti, Palau, Fiji and Kiritimati, also known as Christmas Island, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
The Google executives’ travel has come under scrutiny recently, after the U.S. Defense Department ended an unusual arrangement that allowed their private jets to fly using sharply discounted fuel purchased from the Pentagon, according to regulatory filings.
Flight records show that a Boeing 767 owned by Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin took on 15,306 gallons of Pentagon fuel at $3.57 a gallon in August 2012, just before that plane took off on a 10 ½ hour flight for Viti Levu, part of Fiji. The local Fiji press reported that the billionaire tech executives, along with relatives and friends, were vacationing aboard a large yacht.
Compared to the $3.57 the Google guys were paying, many corporate jet owners shelled out more than $4.75 a gallon for fuel around that time, according to data from the Corporate Aircraft Association. The 767 also flew to the Pacific nation of Tonga during this period, the FAA records show.
The fleet of seven jets and two helicopters, including planes owned by Messrs. Page and Brin along with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, obtained cut-price Pentagon fuel for six years as part of an arrangement to base the planes at Moffett Federal Airfield, a NASA base located just a few miles from Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Here’s a map laying out the distances involved: Google’s HQ is on the left, Moffett Federal Airfield to its right, and then a little further away, the San Jose International Airport.
In return for basing the planes at Moffett, the Google executives agreed to perform some flights for NASA. Records indicate the vast majority of the fuel was used for non-NASA travel. Sen. Charles Grassley has called for a Pentagon inspector general audit of the arrangement, wondering if government fuel was being improperly used for the executives’ private travel.
An official with the Google executives’ company, H211 LLC, has said taxpayers benefited from the arrangement, in which NASA was paid $1.3 million in annual rent and received some free scientific flights. He also noted that the Pentagon is the only source of fuel at the airfield. A Google spokeswoman previously declined to comment on the executives’ travel, referring questions to the H211 executive.
Since early 2009, the Google executives’ firm has purchased 2.3 million gallons of Pentagon jet fuel, at prices generally more than $1.00 per gallon lower than commercial rates.
Two of the Google executives’ Gulfstream V jets landed a total of eight times at Kiritimati over this past Thanksgiving and New Year’s periods, along with landings in Hawaii, the records show. One of the jets returned to Kiritimati in February.
Separately, Consumer Watchdog, a consumer nonprofit group based in Santa Monica, Calif., called for a federal legal probe, claiming the Google executives’ company “bought fuel to which it wasn’t entitled under the agreement with the Defense Department.”
Consumer Watchdog has a history of tangling with Google. As co-counsel, the group this week won a recent Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals victory in a case involving claims that Google’s Street View project had violated consumers’ privacy.
Want to take a look through the Google execuitve flights yourself? Here are the FAA flight records for seven jets owned or operated by top Google executives and based at the Moffett Federal Airfield in California. Two of the jets are large Boeing aircraft, four are Gulfstream V’s, and one is an Alpha trainer jet. We’ve embedded the data below.
Google Jet Fleet Loses a Pentagon Fuel Perk – WSJ