Rendition Flight Details Emerge In Court

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New light fell on the U.S. government's rendition program as aviation companies battled in court over fees paid by the government for the service. According to court testimony from an aircraft broker that made jets available, the government was looking for "the cheapest aircraft to fulfill a mission." Those who catered to the government's needs apparently supplied the jets with their typical salvo of fruit plates and wine and billed for that and other services. The court papers show that some jets flew as many as ten landings during a single mission, costing the government as much as $300,000 in fees. One company involved in the court proceedings claimed to have flown 55 missions for the government. How they did it was another matter.

The president of one of the companies involved in the case referred to the flights as "classified" and described passengers as "government employees and their invitees." The flights were operated under State Department transit letters, addressed "to whom it may concern." According to court testimony from a former FAA lawyer, "when you go overseas and show up in somebody's back yard in your private plane working for the U.S. government, that's a diplomacy issue, not a flight issue." The papers provided to the crew were "letters of public convenience" and stated that "accompanying personnel are under contract with the U.S. government." They described the aircraft's travels as "global support for U.S. embassies worldwide." The letters may also have allowed crews to bypass normal flight-hour restrictions, alter flight plans, and earn cooperation from foreign authorities, according to testimony.