We look at the world’s top ‘presidential’ planes in the wake of Boris Johnson’s Voyager paint job announcement
Last week, UK PM Boris Johnson announced that he will be giving his ministerial plane a brand new – and controversial – red, white and blue makeover. Reportedly costing over £900K, the new livery on the RAF Voyager is due to remove the current coat of military grey paint and replace it with a ‘more appealing’ look that will “better represent the UK around the world” and be more “in line with many other leaders’ planes”. By all accounts, however, public opinion did not agree with his timing; his critics accusing him of being tone-deaf at a time when his government is navigating a post pandemic economic collapse.
Nevertheless, the PM’s attempt to keep up with the Joneses is by no means rare in the world of private government aviation. Many of the world’s leaders have been known to indulge in extravagant planes with perks that exceed any possible private citizen’s aircraft. Shrouded by mystery, legend and intrigue these incredible (often secret) vessels have peaked the interest of aviation enthusiasts for generations…
DDW pulls back the curtain to reveal some of their secrets, perks and more importantly – discover which leader has the best plane:
‘Air Force One’ is, of course, the most famous plane in the skies. Belonging to the office of the United States’ President, this is a machine so impressive that it has spawned its own genre of classic cult films and fandom. Complete with 4000 square feet of interiors, 85 phones, a galley capable of making 2000 meals, conference rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, military capabilities (such as in-air refueling) and an Oval Office for the President – it is a true ‘fortress in the sky’.
In classic US style, this plane has made headlines since 1962; when the first AF1 was delivered to President John F Kennedy. Brandishing livery that was “red and metallic gold, with the nation’s name in block letters”, this plane stirred up controversy in the White House when First Lady Jacquie Kennedy suggested the red and gold looked “too regal” and quickly encouraged it be replaced with the now iconic light blue and white (designed by her friend, the legendary Raymond Loewy, who incidentally also created American icons of design such as the Lucky Strike packet and the Coca-Cola bottle, among others). Since then – it hasn’t stopped becoming the object of debate, international fascination and a symbol of American prowess in the sky.
In a recent deal worth 3.9 billion dollars, plane-maker Boeing has been charged with renewing the Air Force one fleet by US President Donald J.Trump, complete with a re-worked livery that brings back a large red stripe along with blue and white backdrops (quite similar in feel to his own Trump jets). We cannot wait to see what incredible perks will be added to this un-rivaled jet.
The Russian Federation is one of the few nations that builds its own fleet of presidential aircraft. Built by the formerly Soviet aviation company Ilyushin, these planes are luxuriously modified to accommodate the Russian leader and his closest aides.
Reportedly costing close to £400M, each converted Ilyushin IL-96-300PU plane has a long list of amenities to ensure the utmost comfort for the Russian premier.
Known as the “Flying Kremlin” these planes reportedly come prepared with everything from gyms to a fully-equipped presidential bar for entertaining, conference rooms, luxury bedrooms and … gold-plated toilet seats. No expense is spared for each of Vladimir Putin’s five matching government jets.
As a notable mention, North Korea still uses a 1960’s era Russian Ilyushin jet to fly its leader, Kim Jong-Un but a recent EU regulation restricts it from entering European airspace due to the sheer noise of its antiquated engines.
China is recognised the world-over for its power and influence; yet – when it comes to the world of government leadership aviation, the country is surprisingly practical. Instead of opting for a luxurious fleet for Premier Xi Jinping and his cabinet, the People’s Republic uses regular passenger planes flown by national carrier, Air China.
Whenever Xi needs to travel for state visits or international conferences, the Chinese air force pulls three Air China 747-400 planes out of circulation, scans them for safety and refits them with boardrooms and meeting areas ensuring comfort for China’s head of state (the planes are fitted back to normal passenger service afterwards).
Although this may seem unusual for such a powerful nation, there is speculation that China maintains this system to ensure ultimate security and secrecy. In the year 2000, China accused US plane manufacturer Boeing of delivering three custom ‘presidential’ jets “filled with sophisticated listening devices” after which the country has opted for keeping a low-profile.
According to recent reports, Germany has decided to step its executive aviation game.Following a series of embarrassing incidents in 2018 when Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plane was grounded in Argentina due to a communications failure, three new custom A350s have been ordered from German carrier Lufthansa to replace the previously unreliable Airbus A340s. The new planes are set to “rival the US Air Force One” and will be complete with missile defence systems, boardrooms, bedrooms and modern military communications equipment.
Operated by the Executive Transport Wing of the German Government (the ‘Flugbereitschaft’) these aircraft will be maintained by the German Air Force and are due to be delivered by 2022. Although official photographs have not yet been released, reports of a stylish and minimalist interior have been circulating all year for what the press has dubbed “Merkel One”.
To say that the Emir of Qatar is not known for his frugality is an understatement. As the leader of the Emirate and one of the wealthiest people in human history – he has been known to have a flair for the extravagant. This world leader travels with as many as one thousand people in his entourage, requiring a large number of planes to his disposal. Latest reports indicate that this personal fleet includes “two Airbus A320s, two A330s and two Boeing 747-8s” as well as “a state-owned VIP airline, Qatar Amiri Flight” which has fourteen planes used exclusively for his family members, the upper echelons of his government and VIP guests.
With such an impressive fleet at his disposal and bountiful resources, it seems almost unsurprising that Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Bin al-Thani gifted a $400M private jet to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2018 in an exchange of friendship between the two nations. The Republic of Turkey utilises this jet alongside a large fleet of bespoke Airbuses of their own for official engagements.
Until 2015 the The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland chartered jets when the Prime Minister or other top government officials needed to travel. Since then, however, the Royal Air Force has been charged with maintaining and operating a specially designed Airbus A330 which can transport the PM, cabinet members and crew safely around the world as well as members of the Royal Family. The plane, known as The Voyager, includes bedrooms, showers, luxury bathrooms, a boardroom, seats for 291 people, a ‘war room’ for government emergencies and can be re-fueled in mid air.
Curiously, since the aircraft is technically a military vehicle, its livery is slate grey with the emblem of the Royal Airforce on the side, which stands out in sharp contrast to other nations around the world.
In an effort to change the military look of the aircraft and make it more “approachable” current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered the Voyager to be repainted with the Union Jack colours.