France defends 'Air Sarko One' refit
French officials defended plans to outfit a new official Airbus for President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday, denying reports the jet would be luxurious and equipped with a presidential bathtub.
France has bought a second hand A330-200 from tourist airline Air Caraibes and engineers are currently giving it a 180-million-euro (234-million-dollar) overhaul to bring it up to standard for Sarkozy's many foreign trips.
"There's nothing ostentatious about it. There is simply the desire to have an aircraft appropriate for the world's fifth greatest power," government spokesman Luc Chatel told reporters, following press criticism.
The satirical weekly Canard Enchaine had mocked the aircraft, which the press has dubbed "Air Sarko One", claiming that the president had demanded a new air filter system to allow him to smoke and a hip bath to soak in.
The defence ministry issued a statement firmly denying the Canard's claims.
It confirmed, however, there would be a bedroom and a shower on board, as there are on the two A319 airliners currently at Sarkozy's disposition, which will be sold off in what the government has portrayed as a cost saving.
Work is underway at Bordeaux's Merignac airport in southwestern France to upgrade the 214-seat passenger airliner to a 60-place VIP transport, which will come into service in October for the president and senior officials.
Most world powers have similar jets, but Sarkozy is particularly vulnerable to accusations of excess at a time when his government is making spending cuts and he is accused in the media of having too cosy ties with the ultra-rich.
© 2010 AFP