A new military contract between the US Department of Defense and the Glasgow Prestwick Airport is now on hold, following questions over Air Force personnel’s increasingly frequent stays at a Trump resort near that airport.
DOD officials had planned to sign a new contract with the airport that would designate it one of several dozen European airfields at which US military aircrafts could refuel, extending the agency’s current deal with Prestwick by five years.
But as reports emerged showing that that military members stayed at the Trump Turnberry Resort in Ayr, Scotland with increasing regularity during refueling stops, questions of improper military spending followed. Now the potential deal is on hold until at least December, according to sources who spoke to the Scotsman.
The news comes just days after a review conducted by the US military found that 6 percent of all Air Force crews refueling in Scotland stayed at the Turnberry golf resort. That review emerged as the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform continues an investigation into a stark uptick in visits to the airport under the Trump administration. Earlier this week, the committee threatened to subpoena the Defense Department for documents related to the stays.
Despite allegations that the military was improperly choosing to stay the Trump resort to line the president’s pockets with taxpayer money, the Air Force has maintained that it has not done anything wrong.
“As a practice, we generally send aircrews to the closest, most suitable accommodations within the government hotel rate,” an Air Force official said following the release of the military’s review of the matter.
Overnight stays by military members in Scotland have increased by 500 percent since 2015, when the Prestwick Airport received its current contract with the Air Force. And while many of those overnight stays were at the closest hotels to the airfield, some were at Turnberry, which is 20 miles from Prestwick.
Pilots must often pair refueling stops with overnight stays in order to accommodate federally-mandated rest requirements. Since 2015, Air Force air crews have refueled at Prestwick 936 times, and stayed overnight nearby in 659 of those instances. The Air Force found that 39 of those stays were at Turnberry.
The fact Trump profits from his hotels has put the Air Force under increased scrutiny
President Donald Trump has denied any wrongdoing in this matter, tweeting on Monday that military spending at his resorts have “NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.” But as Vox’s Sean Collins has reported, Trump’s fortunes are still tied up in the property:
The House Oversight Committee has been investigating spending at the Turnberry since June, although reports about the inquiry first became public in recent weeks, after Politico reported that servicepeople on missions to the Middle East had stopped at the golf resort during refueling layovers. The stops themselves were cause for concern, writes Collins, because fuel is usually more expensive at commercial airfields, like Prestwick, than at military airfields, like the nearby Lakenheath Air Base in England. But committee members were more concerned about a symbiotic relationship between Trump Turnberry and Prestwick, Collins explains:
But military officials have pushed back on any assertion of impropriety:
Brig. Gen. Edward Thomas, director of Air Force Public Affairs, addressed this concern directly recently when he told reporters, “Even when USAF aircrews follow all directives and guidance, we must still be considerate of perceptions of not being good stewards of taxpayer funds that might be created through the appearance of aircrew staying at such locations.”
Should the contract with Prestwick not be renewed, servicepeople will no longer need to worry about the appearance of a conflict of interest. And if it is signed in December, military officials have pledged to avoid further concerns by updating guidance issued to flight crews, advising them of ways to avoid allegations of corruption by carefully selecting suitable accommodations.