French prime minister defends his $415,000 private flight from Tokyo to Paris

  • The French prime minister's office chartered an Airbus A340 to fly from Tokyo to Paris
  • A near empty French military plane made the same journey not long after
  • Edouard Phillipe said he had to hurry back to France for "something vital"
Antoine Gyori | Corbis | Getty Images

The French prime minister has defended his decision to charter a private aircraft at a cost of 350,000 euros ($415,000) when a government plane was also available.

The office of Edouard Philippe hired an Airbus A340 to fly him and his delegation first class back to Paris from Tokyo, Japan, on December 6.

However, it later transpired that a French A340 army transport plane was flying the same route only a couple of hours later.

"It's complicated to move the prime minister around and it's expensive," Philippe told France's RTL radio Wednesday. "I understand both the surprise and the questions that French people are asking themselves."

Asked to justify the decision, the prime minister replied: "I take responsibility for this decision completely, I take responsibility to such an extent that I want to explain it."

The army plane landed in Paris two hours after his plane and was almost completely empty. But Phillipe argued that this time difference was a crucial factor.

"We knew that there wasn't a commercial flight at that time and that we needed to get back. We knew we needed to get back for something vital which is that the president (Emmanuel Macron) was leaving on the Wednesday morning of our return," Philippe added.

The leader described prime ministerial travel as complicated and expensive and added that if he was moving around as a citizen he would "come in the metro which would have cost me 1.90 or 2 euros."

Philippe, who is a member of The Republicans political party, was appointed as prime minister by Macron in May.