By Andrew Feinberg - 05/15/12 09:31 PM EDT
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wants to know if Google is getting a sweetheart deal from its lease of a California airfield operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
In a letter to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, Grassley inquires as to "troubling allegations" regarding the fleet of aircraft owned by Google executives at California's Moffett Airfield, a former Naval Air station now operated by NASA.
NASA policy lets private aircraft use government-owned facilities, but only if the aircraft are used for scientific missions.
But an investigation by NBC Bay Area showed that Google's six planes, which are owned and operated by the holding company, have flown only 52 scientific missions since 2007, out of approximately 1,039 total fights. That means only around five percent are scientific in nature.
NASA regulations don't specific how many flights need to be scientifically oriented to satisfy the rules.
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Grassley wants to know who negotiated the lease and how the $3.7 million per year figure was arrived at, asking: "Does that represent a fair market rate for the lease?"
He also wants to confirm or refute allegations that the H211/Google aircraft owners have been purchasing jet fuel from the airfield at a discounted price "well below the market rate due to its tax treatment."
Grassley is seeking answers on how many planes at the field are owned by Google, what kind of planes they are, arrangements for fueling the aircraft, and all contracts and other documents that define the arrangement.
He also wants to view flight plans and passenger manifests for all of the Google-owned planes at the airfield.
Grassley expects a response from NASA by May 25.
— This story was updated at 10:00 a.m. to reflect that the planes are owned by the holding company H211, and at 11:54 a.m. to note that the original investigation was conducted by NBC Bay Area.