The Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported over the weekend that Schavan ordered a Cougar AS 532 helicopter from the federal government's military air service to fly from Stuttgart on May 20 to give a interview to a Swiss newspaper and hold a speech in the city that evening. The chopper had to fly from its base from Berlin to pick her up in the southwestern German city before taking her to Zürich and then back to the German capital.
A spokeswoman for Schavan told the paper that she only used the expensive government helicopter because there was no way she could make her appointments in Zürich otherwise. However, Bild determined there was a commercial flight available for only €329 that would have gotten the minister to Zürich only minutes later than the helicopter.
“She apparently has an incorrect estimation of her importance,” Undine Kurth, an MP for the Greens, told the paper. “If Ms. Schavan thinks that a speech and an interview appointment are such important appointments then she should perhaps reconsider just what her significance is.”
The chairman of the German military association, Bernhard Gertz, was also highly critical of Schavan's trip.
“One flight hour with a Cougar helicopter costs around €5,300. If our politicians fly to speaking engagements then those costs should be covered by the finance budget and not the Bundeswehr's resources,” he said. “The troops need the money more – for example for helicopters in action in Afghanistan.”
But the leader of the Christian Democrats parliamentary group, Volker Kauder, defended his fellow conservative Schavan on Monday. “There are clear rules,” he said in Berlin. “I can't understand the whole ruckus.”
Kauder said the military flight service had running costs regardless if it was used or not and the pilots needed to fly regularly to stay qualified for duty.