- Investigation finds firm owned by Google execs keeps jets at Nasa facility
- There it buys fuel at prices from a half to nearly a fifth of market rate
- Planes used to jet off to exotic locations across the planet
- Google says arrangement has actually left Nasa $2million BETTER OFF
PUBLISHED: 04:42 EST, 25 September 2013 | UPDATED: 07:14 EST, 25 September 2013
Google executives have been jetting across the world in planes run on cheap fuel subsidised by Nasa and the U.S. Department of Defense, an investigation has revealed.
A company owned by Google’s founders has bought millions of dollars worth of jet fuel at below market prices from Nasa’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, near San Francisco, California.
It has also emerged that keeping the planes at the federal site has enabled the owners to avoid hefty property taxes, potentially amounting to $500,000 per plane per year.
‘Sweetheart deal’: Google co-founders Sergey Brin, left, and Larry Page, centre, and its executive chairman Eric Schmidt, right, are the principals of H211, which owns seven private jets and buys cheap fuel direct from Nasa
The investigation by NBC Bay Area News found that nearly $8million worth of fuel, sold for as little as $1.68 a gallon, has been put into a fleet of seven aircraft and two helicopters owned by H211.
The same fuel sells for two to nearly five times that amount at other nearby airports in the Bay Area.
H211 is a limited liability company whose principals are the also the principals of Google, including founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
The apparent sweetheart deal with the Google men was made possible under a so-called Nasa Space Agreement allowing their planes to be kept at Moffett Field since 2007.
The site happens to be less than three miles from Google’s global headquarters.
H211 initially agreed to pay the space agency $113,365.74 a month in rent – a price subsequently slashed to $108,938.62 a month after it allowed Nasa to borrow the planes for experiments.
But figures seen by NBC in May last year showed that of the 1,039 flights to date, only 155 were used for science.
Meanwhile, the planes, which include five Gulfstream Vs, a Boeing 757 and a Boeing 767, used below-market-rate fuel to travel to such exotic destinations as London, Paris, Cancun, Scotland, Puerto Vallarta, Hawaii, Liberia and Tahiti.
Keeping the jets at Moffett Field also gives H211 a tax break. Property kept on federal sites is exempt from the tallying for local property taxes, which means the company pays no county taxes on the aircraft kept there.
Santa Clara County Assessor Lawrence Stone told NBC that the exemption means that local government is losing out on between $400,000 and $500,000 in property taxes per plane per year.
Jamie Court, the president and chairman of Consumer Watchdog, called the arrangement ‘the greatest sweetheart deal in the history of Nasa’.
‘There’s no reason these billionaires should be getting cheaper gas, like the Army, when they’re not doing anything for the government,’ he told NBC.
‘This is all a ruse to have a landing strip to go party around the world at some of the nicest resorts and the nicest parties with rock stars and celebrities.
‘And it’s all being financed by the taxpayer.’
A spokesman for Nasa said the arrangement gave the agency a ‘unique component of support’ for its earth science missions to measure ozone and greenhouse gases.
Google referred NBC’s enquiries to H211, whose vice president, Ken Ambrose, said that the company pays the full retail cost for hangar space ‘that includes none of the ground support typically included’ elsewhere.
He furthermore said that, far from the taxpayer losing out, Nasa were in fact $2million better off thanks to the deal.
Following enquiries from NBC Bay Area’s journalists, the Department of Defense announced that the government will stop selling jet fuel to H211 from August 31, 2013.