The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating the Air Force for C-17 crews’ use of per diem funds to stay at Trump’s luxury Turnberry resort, about 50 miles outside of Glasgow, Scotland, after stopping for fuel at the nearby Prestwick Airport. Air Force photo by SrA. Megan Munoz.
A month-long Air Force review of its travel policies and accommodations regulations found that aircrews did not break the rules by staying at President Donald Trump’s resort in Scotland, and that the service’s current standards for such stopovers are strong.
In early September, reports emerged of mobility aircrews staying at the luxury Trump Turnberry resort about 40 minutes away from the struggling Prestwick Airport outside Glasgow. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in June raised concerns about the resort’s use, claiming the hotel and the airport were using the US military as a financial lifeline.
On Sept. 9, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and then-Acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan ordered Air Mobility Command to review the process by which airmen choose airports and accommodations during travel.
Lt. Gen. Jon Thomas, the deputy commander of AMC, conducted the deep dive along with a team of subject matter experts. The team had 30 days to review Defense Department, USAF, and AMC policies, and to interview crews that visited the resort. Their findings were released Oct. 25.
“The data collected during this review convincingly confirmed that patterns across the 2015-2019 timeframe conform to use on the basis of operational military necessity,” the report states.
First, the report reaffirmed that the Prestwick airport was an important location for US military use.
“Mobility aircraft and crews have utilized the parking apron at Prestwick en route to support the Berlin Airlift, Cold War operations, Desert Storm, Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, Operation Inherent Resolve, and the fight to defeat ISIS,” the review states. “Prestwick has two long runways, full instrument approach capability, and a large parking apron stressed for heavy cargo aircraft. Historically, Prestwick also has relatively better weather patterns (better visibility and less precipitation) than other airfields in the United Kingdom and Ireland used by AMC aircraft.”
Unlike RAF Mildenhall, England; Ramstein AB, Germany; and Spangdahlem AB, Germany, Prestwick is open 24 hours a day. It has never turned away AMC aircraft that are loaded with hazardous cargo, while other locations are limited in their ability to handle such aircraft, the report states.
USAF C-130s need to refuel on the western side of the British Isles if flying from the continental US because their limited range prevents them from reaching Mildenhall and Ramstein. Together, those reasons led AMC in June 2017 to list Prestwick as a top choice for standard deployments of C-130s, KC-10s, and KC-135s. That, in turn, prompted more stops at the airport.
The Air Force review specifically looked at the use of the Trump-owned Turnberry resort, which is relatively far from Prestwick compared to other places airmen could stay.
The report states that of the 936 total mobility missions that went through Prestwick, 659 needed overnight stays so crews could rest. Of those, 545 could be reviewed, meaning the rest lacked accurate or available paperwork.
Thirty-one crews of the 545 reviewable stays went to the Turnberry, while the vast majority stayed in the airport’s immediate area.
When crews need lodging, they are typically helped by the local Prestwick Aviation Services. AMC officials interviewed the company about their recommendation process.
First, aircrews are directed to the closest hotel that falls within the Defense Department’s highest-allowed per-diem rate, the nearby hotel Mercure. Of the reviewable stays, 253 occurred at the Mercure.
If that hotel was unavailable, crews were directed to other nearby hotels that were more expensive. If those couldn’t take the airmen, they were then directed to either the Turnberry resort or to hotels in Glasgow, both of which were about 40 minutes away, the report states.
Aircrews’ decisions to use Prestwick, and to stay at the Trump resort, fell within DOD guidelines, the report concludes. Investigators did not recommend changing current guidance or say that airmen should not use the area’s airields, but suggested more training for commanders on travel regulations.
“Educating aircrew on applicable regulations is a continuous process, and AMC can improve how it educates aircrew on travel regulations by incorporating lessons and discussion items into its aircraft commander training,” the report states.