MIAMI – Some of the most recognizable and unique passenger aircraft flying around the world are specialized government aircraft. Whether its the United States’ Boeing VC-25 (Air Force One), Germany’s brand new Airbus A350 or the Republic of Turkey’s Boeing 747-8, each aircraft plays a vital role in international politics.
As the face of the country they represent, the aircraft, its manufacturer, and even livery of each aircraft are important in showcasing its country’s attributes.
One of the few times most of the government aircraft gather together is for UN Week during the UN General Assembly in New York City. The week of the assembly is especially popular among AvGeeks and planespotters, who gather together to photograph and admire the incredibly unique aircraft that make their way to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK).
In 2019, some notable visitors were the Republic of Turkey (Boeing 747-8, Airbus A330), Korean Air Force 1 (Boeing 747-400), Kazakhstan’s Airbus A321, the Kingdom of Swaziland’s Airbus A340-300, the State of Kuwait’s Airbus A340-500, Germany’s Airbus A340, among many others.
Although 2020’s in person assembly was cancelled due to COVID-19, we hope that the tradition will resume this year in September (with coverage from Airways!).
The assembly is a chance for government dignitaries to show off brand new aircraft, or even splurge on an expensive charter. The government of Chad, for example, chartered one of the DeerJet Boeing 787s for their trip to New York City.
Apart from government gatherings, new aircraft deliveries and liveries in 2020 jumped to the top of headlines. The United Kingdom’s bold new livery on their Airbus A330 and Germany’s brand new Airbus A350 made some of the most notable news last year.
Here are 10 of the most unique government/executive aircraft from around the world, and the stories behind them.
1. DeerJet: The Republic of Chad’s US$1.7m Joyride
In 2019, the government of Chad chartered the famous luxury DeerJet Boeing 787-8 for their trip to the UN General Assembly. Chad, a large country in Africa, has a population of approximately 14 million (2015) with an average GDP of US$890 per capita.
Excluding repositioning flight costs, landing fees and other related costs, the flight to and from N’Djamena (the capital of Chad), would take approximately 12 hours each. At an estimated US$70,000 per hour price tag for the DeerJet, the total cost would have been about US$1,680,000.
The DeerJet is owned and operated by the HNA Group, one of the largest financial conglomerates in the world. The group owns Hainan Airlines (HU), Fuzhou Airlines (FU), Tianjin Airlines (GS), Urumqi Air (UQ), among many other airlines in China.
In addition, they own a 23.7% stake in Azul Airlines (AD), 25% of Hilton Worldwide and airport logistics company Swissport. Needless to say, the group has many resources at its discretion and is a major player in the global aviation market.
2. The Republic of Turkey Boeing 747-8: Qatar’s US$500m Gift
As an important player in global politics, the Republic of Turkey made a resounding appearance at the UN General Assembly, bringing three aircraft from Turkey to JFK. The flagship, a Boeing 747-8, an Airbus A330 and a smaller Gulfstream all made appearances in New York.
As with many presidential aircraft, Turkey’s Boeing 747-8 is a status symbol, and has a beautiful livery to match. The aircraft was originally delivered to the Qatar Royal Family in 2012, and entered service in 2015.
After attempting to sell the aircraft, the Qatari Royals decided to gift the aircraft to Turkey to be used as an executive private jet. With an approximate price tag of US$500m, the gift is an extraordinary piece of aviation history.
The move was made as tensions within the Middle East flared, and Qatar was looking to cement its alliance with Turkey.
3. Germany’s Luftwaffe A350: New Bird on the Block
As a replacement for Germany’s aging Airbus A340 aircraft, The German government ordered three Airbus A350-900 aircraft.
According to Aerotime Hub, the aircraft were ordered due to a series of technical issues with their Airbus A340 aircraft. The other two aircraft are set to be delivered in 2022.
The Germany A350-900 is the first Airbus A350 aircraft to be delivered for government use.
4. Kazakhstan’s A321ACJ: Luxury in Central Asia
As the 9th largest country in the world by land size, Kazakhstan is the largest Central Asian country. The government owns four VIP aircraft that are used by officials.
For the United Nations General Assembly in 2019, Kazakhstan brought their Airbus A321ACJ. Along with the A321ACJ, the government operates an Airbus A320ACJ, A330-200 Prestige and a Bombardier CRJ-200ER.
The government had previously used Boeing aircraft in its VIP fleet. This included a Boeing 757, originally delivered to Brunei Airlines (BI) and used by the Brunei government. Since its time with the Kazakh government, the aircraft has been moved to the Kazakhstan Air Force.
Additionally, the Kazakh government used a Boeing 767-2DX(ER), but the aircraft has since entered service with Comlux Aruba (CS).
5: United Arab Emirates: The Middle East’s Lush Fleet
Officially dubbed ‘Presidential Flight’, this fleet of aircraft responsible for transporting the United Arab Emirates’ most important government and royal family members around the world.
The aircraft seen here was originally ordered by Jet Airways but was never taken up. ‘Presidential Flight’ then took delivery of and refurbished the aircraft with all the gold and glamor expected of the fleet in December of 2009.
Name ‘Al Sila’, a city in the western region of the United Arab Emirates, the aircraft is one of two Boeing 777-300(ER)s in the fleet. The rest of the fleet is comprised of an Airbus A320, a Boeing 737-8EX BBJ and a whopping four Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners (one is a BBJ).
6. Tiny County, Enormous Wealth: The Sultan of Brunei’s 747-400
If you haven’t heard of Brunei, here’s why. It’s the 32nd smallest country in the world, covering 5,765 square km. The nation sits in the Malaysian side of the island of Borneo.
The oil rich nation is led by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who also resides as the Prime Minister of the country. With an estimated peak net worth of US$20bn, he is also one of the richest men in the world.
With a private collection of over 7,000 cars, it’s only natural that he travels in luxury. He owns a Boeing 747-8i, a popular choice among wealthy government officials.
The Boeing 747 pictured here has been retired and is now in storage. The current fleet comprises of a Boeing 747-8i, a Boeing 767 and a Boeing 787.
7. Land of the Rising 777: Japan’s New Boeing VIP Aircraft
In 2018, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force replaced their two famous Boeing 747-400s with two new Boeing 777-300(ER)s. The original Boeing 747s were delivered brand new in 1992, transporting high level government officials around the world.
The new aircraft are configured for VIP transport, making them a couple of the nicest Boeing 777s flying today.
8: Mexico’s Boeing 787: The Political Pawn Stuck in the Desert
Mexico’s Presidential Boeing 787 has become a political pawn of Mexico’s volatile government, sitting in the desert, waiting for its potential future owners.
The aircraft, originally ordered by the former President of Mexico, has been for sale for over two years, deemed “an insult to the people” by the current President of Mexico.
President Obrador used the plane as a talking point for his platform while seeking election, seeing it as a symbol of Mexico’s out of balance political system. Since taking office, he has tried countless times, to no avail, to sell – even raffle away – the plane.
The President can be seen traveling commercially, often in economy class.
9: Canada’s Airbus A310: Government Aircraft in a Retro Livery?
The Canadian Armed Forces operates three Airbus A310s, each serving a different purpose, and each in a different livery. Each of the aircraft are over 30 years old, making them some of the oldest government aircraft still in use.
The VIP Airbus A310, used to transport the Prime Minister of Canada and other high level officials is painted in a beautiful livery over a white airframe.
The second Airbus A310, pictured above, is painted in the ‘retro’ livery, and was originally delivered to Wardair Canada, serving with various Canadian airlines before making its way to the Canadian Armed Forces in 1992.
10: The Boeing VC25: Air Force One
Possibly one of the most recognizable aircraft in the world, Air Force One (only called ‘Air Force One’ while the President is on board, but will be referred to as Air Force One in this article) has become a status symbol for the US, not only transporting many Presidents around the world, but also appearing in multiple movies and television shows.
With only two ever built, the pair of Boeing VC-25s, a varient of the Boeing 747-200 series are precisely maintained and operated. The aircraft were ordered by President Reagan as replacements for the aging Boeing 707s used as Air Force One.
The aircraft were delivered in 1990 under the George H. W. Bush administration. Designed to operate as a mobile Presidential office, the aircraft have dedicated space for ‘The Situation Room’, as well as offices similar in function to the Oval Office, among other unique function and security features.
Be sure to come back next week for the third installment of The AvCompass, where we will explore LAX with one of our photographers, Luca Flores.