Google Founders Lose Pentagon Jet Fuel Discount
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23: Google founders Larry Page (R) and Sergey Brin (L) speak at a press conference announcing Google's launch of a new transit mapping feature of Google Maps with the Metropolitan Transit Authority at Grand Central Station on September 23, 2008 in New York City. Users searching for driving directions will also be given the choice of public transportation directions. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will no longer be getting a government discount when jetting around the world.
Page and Brin's six-year deal to buy cheap jet fuel from the Pentagon ended Aug. 31, according to the Wall Street Journal, when the U.S. Department of Defense killed the arrangement between NASA and the billionaires. The decision came after Pentagon official Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote a letter questioning the terms.
"Are some executives getting a special deal on fuel that isn't available to other businesses?" Grassley asked in the letter, suggesting the arrangement wasn't being fiscally responsible.
NASA allowed Google to house its private fleet at Moffett Federal Airfield in 2007, and the contractor in charge of those planes pays $1.3 million a year in rent, which helps NASA cut costs. Google is also leasing some land there for a future campus.
It's not as strange as it seems because NASA benefits from flights by an Alpha jet purchased by Google executives. The government agency uses the jet to measure greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, according to the WSJ. "NASA is always looking for innovative, public-private partnerships to help advance our mission and provide benefit to the American taxpayer," a spokeswoman for NASA said, but she also said that Google will now pay "fair market prices."
Google's air fleet contractor H211 has bought 2.3 million gallons of jet fuel since early 2009, and paid an average of $3.19 per gallon, a steep discount from the average $4.35 a gallon paid by most corporate fleets. Most of the flights were to Los Angeles and New York, but planes flew several times to the Caribbean (20), Hawaii (17), Nantucket, Mass. (16) and Tahiti (15.)
Did Google's founders take advantage of the deal? Probably, because who wouldn't jump at the chance of getting discount fuel even if they didn't have an Alpha jet to lend? Nonetheless, six years is a long time to get a barely-questioned perk by the U.S. government, so Google had a healthy run of good luck.