Platty Joobs Tea Party

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The British papers have been full of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee this week. So even a 15-minute delay when a thunderstorm forced her private jet to orbit London before landing caused many headlines.

Her Majesty probably relished the extra flight time in the Embraer Legacy 650, operated by Luxaviation Group, as an oasis of peace in her still-busy-schedule. But, as Britain and the Commonwealth celebrate the Queen’s 70 years’ of service, it offers an opportunity to consider the private jet preferences of fellow heads of state.

Boeing Business Jets (BBJ) is a good place to start. “Many customers, including heads of state, slowed activity during the pandemic, though we have already booked two head-of-state orders this year,” Alexis Fecteau, BBJ’s Jets Sales director for Middle East, Africa, Mediterranean and global director of BBJ Marketing tells us.

Larger states prefer the presence and status of the largest airplanes, he says. It’s a memorable list: US Air Force One (BBJ 747-8), China’s 747s (commercial but flown by Air China) and a number of others, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s BBJ 747-8s, Japan’s BBJ 777-300ER. “Heads of state typically prefer widebody jets since they travel with large contingents, security, press, and more,” says Fecteau. “The  BBJ, the supplier of more head-of-state airplanes than any other, provides the status that heads of state demand for dedicated presidential travel.”

Top trends include bespoke connectivity solutions, including secure communications, low cabin altitude, self-defence systems, external camera systems and some are looking at air ionization for additional sanitisation of cabin air.

Interest is high in acquiring new aircraft is high. “A number of heads of states are looking to replace aging head-of-state transport and, like the rest of the business jet industry, business is strong, with lots of activity so more to come.”

Airbus Corporate Jets is also familiar with the sale of private jets to heads of state and governments. The OEM has delivered more than 200 aircraft around the world and 50% to governments, Borna Vrdoljak, head of Marketing Airbus Corporate Jets told me during a recent visit to ACJ’s new Creative Design Studio in Toulouse, France. A quarter of deliveries were to charter operators and corporations and a further quarter to private individuals.

“Governments tend to favour larger aircraft because heads of state travel with their entourage,” said Vrdoljak. “They need additional seating capacity on board above 19 passengers, which is what we offer on the ACJ TwoTwenty.” The first ACJ TwoTwenty is currently being completed by Comlux in the US.

Not all heads of state want a bizliner. “30 countries have chosen Gulfstream for their head-of-state transport and 10 more nations have relied on Gulfstream to convey other leadership personnel and VIPs,” a Gulfstream spokesman tells CJI.

So, what do heads of state look for in Gulfstream private jets? “Endurance, efficiency and reliability are high on the list of critical performance characteristics,” says the spokesman. “Our platforms are extremely flexible giving Gulfstream the ability to customise aircraft to meet specific needs, whatever they may be, including encrypted communications.”

Bombardier says aircraft deliveries to heads of states per quarter have been stable since 2020 and are mainly driven by larger aircraft models. “This customer demographic tends to favour larger aircraft, such as our Global family of business jets, for its range and reliability, and its proven platform flexibility for specialized system integration,” according to the OEM.

Specialist systems vary widely according to Tom Chatfield, CEO of Camber Aviation Management. “Head-of-state business jets take a similar amount of time to build, outfit and deliver as for conventional buyers, before being fitted with head-of-state unique systems, which may include encrypted communications, anti-missile systems and the like usually being installed thereafter,” says Chatfield.

Chatfield says the greatest trend is for secure, high-speed satellite communications systems that can be encrypted. “On large jets, heads of state will often install two satellite communications systems to provide redundancy to ensure the aircraft is always in communication with the ground.”

Also head of state aircraft operating into volatile areas are often equipped with an anti-missile system designed to foil ground-launched missiles. A new threat emerged recently in the form of lasers. “Such devices can temporarily blind pilots and are a concern for head-of-state aircraft, especially during the approach phase.”

There’s strong interest in acquiring military eyeglasses, designed to block laser light, ahead of the planned introduction of windshield laser filters that are currently in development, he says.

In some good news for business aviation, the other major aviation story in the UK this week has been about huge delays and flight cancellations at commercial airports. A 15-minute landing delay is a storm in a royal teacup.

The Queen’s 70 years of service offers an opportunity to consider the private jet preferences of fellow heads of state.

 

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