Ever since John Howard decided that the PM’s then-brand new Boeing BBJ VIP jets in 2002 had to be as uncomfortable as possible, there have been press gallery reporters, and perhaps political successors, pining for a less agonising way of covering long-distance trips.

Airbus has just rekindled those dreams by releasing details of a VIP version of its high-tech remake of its wide-body A330 capable of taking a select prime ministerial party non-stop from Canberra to London, or Washington DC, or just about anywhere!

It’s called the ACJ330NEO, and the media release says it can fly non-stop for 20 hours from Europe to Australia.

OK, let’s not quibble too much. Twenty hours and 17,400 kilometres non-stop coming eastbound isn’t the same as doing it non-stop in the other direction, nor long enough to do it from Canberra. But it could be done! All that is required is to eject one or two superfluous or under-performing members of the prime ministerial entourage at a range- and payload-critical moment and maybe 21 or 22 of the original contingent of 25 people could make it to Buckingham Palace.

Airbus, like Boeing, always seems to be very conservative in its range-payload estimates, which if you are trying to navigate the tricky airspace between Australia and Europe, even with top level approvals, is no doubt prudent on their part.

VIP jets don’t necessarily have to file flight plans consistent with commercial ETOPS rules either. There is no doubt on the specs that the ACJA330 will be a potent carriage, especially fitted out with enough room for full flat sleeper seats for all in an official party, compared to the exceedingly ordinary seating arrangements in the ancient, but alas, still under contract, VIP BBJs of RAAF Squadron 34.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with an opulently outfitted 737-based BBJ. Except that John Howard was concerned that they might be perceived as too luxurious for Australian political sensitivities some 15 years ago — hence the subsequent suffering. Even the PM would have found the sleeping arrangements grotesquely inferior to what Qantas, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and so forth routinely offer to their premium customers today.

In its current technology forms, the A330 is well known to the RAAF as a multi-role tanker transport, as well as a major part of the wide-body fleets of Qantas and Virgin Australia.

However, by the time any Australian government has a VIP fleet free of contract obligations and in an environment where it might dare seriously canvass a more comfortable and versatile alternative to the BBJs there will almost certainly be ACJ350s on offer. We already know that from late next year there will be commercial A350s flying that might out-distance an ACJ330NEO, and that in the early 2020s, the technology for them to take around 100 passengers non-stop each way between Sydney or Melbourne should have been reliably established.

*This article was originally published at Plane Talking

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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