World Leaders and their Private Jets
It’s no secret that the world’s most powerful leaders are often transported by highly specialized aircraft. Some manage with only one, while others have entire fleets of customized aircraft at their disposal.
Air Charter Service specialises in several niches of air transportation; government charters for heads of state, cargo charters for humanitarian relief, private jet charters for leisure and more. Using research and intel from our 20 worldwide offices, our team assembled a global comparative analysis of the aircraft used by some of the world’s most influential leaders. We share the results of this global study with you below.
The Queen of England, members of the Royal family and Great Britain’s government rely upon the 32nd squadron of the United Kingdom for transportation. These include two AW109 helicopters for travelling distances under 1,000 kilometres, six BAE-125 airplanes with a flight range up to 3000 kilometres, as well as four mid-sized reactive BAE-146 airplanes that are used primarily on the territory of the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II also has a personal helicopter, Sikorsky S-76 Spirit, as part of the Royal Household.5 The total cost of the 32nd squadron fleet of the United Kingdom is around 100 million dollars. Until recently, the Royal Family leased ordinary Boeing 747s or Boeing 777s from British Airways or Virgin Atlantic airways for travelling long distances. Currently, the Queen and her family members can be transported for important events by the airplanes and helicopters of the Royal Air Force.
Recently, the 32nd squadron of United Kingdom acquired its own Airbus A330 for 195 million pounds. The main purpose of the new airliner is to carry the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, on official government trips. Compared to the air management centres of other leaders of nuclear powers, the aircraft of the United Kingdom is generally an ordinary passenger airplane, with some minor alterations in the cabin planning and in-flight refuelling capabilities.
According to the press, the modifications of the airplane were conducted in accordance with conditions of the economy. The refitment of the British Prime Minister’s airplane cost a modest 15 million pounds. It is also noted that utilising the government Airbus resulted in saving up to almost 1.5 million pounds on plane charters.
The aircraft of Theresa May is modest in terms of the materials used and the cabin configuration. A small VIP area with two ottoman chairs is located in the front part of the Airbus A330. If desired, the sliding curtains can be closed to offer some privacy from the rest of the delegation. The main body of the aircraft cabin is occupied by 58 business class seats created for the accommodation of ministers and their deputies. The tail portion is occupied by 100 economy class seats, made for the journalists publicising the work of the Ministry Cabinet.
Interestingly, the former British Prime Minister David Cameron previously used public airline services on a number of occasions, seated among regular passengers.
Vladimir Putin’s flagship aircraft is the Russian-made IL-96-300PU. It is a wide-bodied, long-haul airliner that is easily distinguishable from the passenger model by its extended fuselage fairing. The government installed an advanced communication system on board that allows the aircraft to act as a management centre capable of carrying out the prompt commandment of troops in case of unexpected conflict.
Putin’s IL-96-300PU aircraft specifications
The sheer size of the snow-white airliner demands respect. Its length reaches almost 65 metres, and the wingspan exceeds 65 metres. The differences between the technical characteristics of the IL-96-300PU and the basic passenger model are minimal. Like the original, the maximum takeoff mass of the presidential aircraft is around 270 tonnes and max cruising speed tops out at 900 kilometres per hour. The service ceiling of the aircraft is 12,000 metres. However, modifications have been made to the maximum flight length without refuelling. Putin’s IL-96-300PU has a significantly longer range than the standard model.
While the exterior of the aircraft looks largely the same as the basic model, the cabin is lavishly decorated with tapestries and gold accents. The furniture and interior décor are finished in the neoclassical style. The current interior design was completed according to the sketches of Ivan Glazunov, the son of revered Russian artist Ilya Glazunov. The interior has been fully customized to allow the president to work and rest in comfort. The presidential airplane is equipped with a spacious office, a bedroom and a fully-equipped gym.
Of course, an airliner as large as the IL-96-300PU requires superior security. This coverage is provided by the pilots of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ special squad, both inside and outside of Russian territory. Putin’s personal aircraft has several layers of protection against potential attacks from land or from the air. The aircraft’s body has a special coating that makes the plane less visible to RCS, an automated system of jamming and disorienting radars, as well as its own anti-aircraft defence system. Further details on the plane’s security are a state secret protected by the Federal Security Service.
Russia’s presidential fleet
The presidential air squad is comprised of four of the president‘s first-choice aircraft rather than one. This is not a case of reliability, but one of security. As soon as knowledge of an international flight is public, all four aircraft are readied for departure. The specific plane to be used by Vladimir Putin is not known until take-off. After the choice is made, either one or all three of the remaining airplanes follow the president as the reserve. In total, the air squad's fleet is made up of 68 airplanes. 64 of them are utilised, while the remaining four are kept in storage.
Estimated aircraft model cost
What is the total building cost of each presidential IL-96-300PU? It is impossible to find an exact answer based on the available information. However, we are able to estimate that the basic cost of the IL-96-300PU is around 60 million dollars. On top of that, the price of the presidential passenger cabin, security measures, communication systems and changes in airliner construction could raise this cost substantially.
Air Force One is the name of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States at any time. Unlike the Russian leader, Donald Trump relies primarily on two identical customized aircraft. The aircraft are heavily modified Boeing 747-200B models and are referred to within the government by their military designation, VC-25A. If an airport is unable to accommodate the VC-25A due to its landing strip capacity, a more compact Boeing C-32 is used. The presidential air fleet is positioned under the administration of the 89th airlift wing, located at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
Air Force One specifications
The Boeing 747 is the first double-decker, long-haul, wide-bodied passenger airplane in the world. From the moment of production it was the largest aircraft of the civic air force. Even now, its dimensions are impressive: the length is over 70 metres, the wingspan is 65 metres, and the width of the fuselage is 6.5 metres. The maximum speed is almost 1,000 kilometres per hour and the flight range of the basic version is approximately 14,000 kilometres.
Similar to Russia’s IL-96-300PU, the extensive modification of the two Boeing 747-200Bs was specifically designed for the President of the United States. The VC-25A has better fuel economy and an increased flight range over the original model. Alterations allowing refuelling of the airliner during flight theoretically allow the aircraft to remain in the sky for an indefinite period of time.
Similar to Vladimir Putin’s IL-96-300PU, Trump’s VC-25A serves as a chief government management centre during prolonged flights. Air Force One has a number of secure communication channels including satellite. The aircraft’s security systems are prepared to protect from standard attacks as well as any unusual occurrences such as targeted electromagnetic impulses. The VC-25A is also equipped with a medical suite that acts as a fully functional operating room.
The first interior of the Boeing VC-25A was designed by Nancy Reagan, the wife of President Ronald Reagan, in an American Southwest style that has since been updated. The airliners have been occasionally modernised to improve the radio navigation and the communication equipment features and to alter the aircraft’s interior according to the new president's preferences.
The President of the United States has substantial living space on board. With a cabin area exceeding 370 square metres, the president’s accommodations include a bedroom, bathroom, gym and offices. Of course, the president is unable to travel alone and is always accompanied by a large retinue. Air Force One has personal space for each of the retinue members. Higher ranks have separate offices at their disposal, while others have a place to work and to rest. There is a separate area for the accompanying news reporters. Altogether, the presidential aircraft is capable of comfortably accommodating 70 passengers and 26 members of the crew.
Estimated aircraft model cost
As with Russia’s airplane, it is difficult to calculate the exact cost of the VC-25A. We do know that at the time of construction in 1990, the cost of the passenger version was 100 million dollars. The modifications and improvements of the flight characteristics, the installation of the communication equipment and security systems will have increased the cost of the aircraft substantially. Bearing in mind that each of the VC-25As were modernised and reworked, we could speculate that an estimated 1 billion dollars may have been spent on each of the American President’s Boeing 747-200Bs.
Unlike his colleagues who have multiple airplanes, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping does not own a personal aircraft. The leader of the People’s Republic of China uses two Boeing 747-400’s belonging to Air China airlines (tail numbers B-2447 and B-2472) for his government visits and business trips. The catalogue value of these planes at the time of construction was approximately 195 million pounds each.1
Both of the airliners are used for regular passenger flights by Air China airlines. However, as soon as the president plans an upcoming foreign visit, the airplanes are carefully examined by the leader’s security service, which may take up to several weeks. After the examinations, the aircraft are sent to refitting during which some of the cabin’s seats are dismantled and replaced with a spacious living room, a bedroom and an office. Specific details of the ongoing manipulations are not known. After the government leader’s return to his native land, the airplanes are given back to Air China and returned to the original state to be used for passenger flights again.
Xin Jinping’s aircraft interior
It is only possible to view the interior of the president’s altered Air China Boeing 747-400s through a limited number of official photographs taken on board, in particular those taken during the negotiations of Xi Jinping with the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Several sources report that the interior design of the PRC’s presidential aircraft is rather austere and far from lavish or luxurious.
Why hasn’t the president of the People’s Republic gotten his own permanent aircraft? This question has already been raised by one of the predecessors of Xi Jinping, Jiang Zemin. Newly purchased airplanes, which were planned to be the analogues to the Russian and American presidential airliners, were delivered to the San Antonio airport (United States) for refitment. However, the Chinese leaders have never used them after the remodelling was completed.
According to the American press, it is possible that upon the airplane's arrival, members of the PRC’s national security system found a number of listening devices in the cabin. China’s only commentary came a few months later from the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stating “there was no objective need for eavesdropping.”2
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most famous aircraft is an Airbus A340-313X VIP referred to as the Konrad Adenauer after the first postwar Chancellor of Germany. In addition to the Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor Merkel has several other planes at her disposal, all managed by the the German armed forces.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most famous aircraft is an Airbus A340-313X VIP referred to as the Konrad Adenauer after the first postwar Chancellor of Germany. In addition to the Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor Merkel has several other planes at her disposal, all managed by the the German armed forces.
The fleet available to Chancellor Merkel and her closest advisors is quite extensive and handles a wide range of tasks. A Eurocopter AS532 can be used for flights around Germany and other close countries. For longer flights up to 2,000 kilometres, Angela Merkel has access to four business jets, including a Bombardier Global 5000 valued at around 55 million pounds and two Airbus A319-133X CJs each costing more than 115 million pounds. The Airbus has a range of over 6,000 kilometres, but is rarely used for transcontinental flights.
The most famous planes in the German government’s fleet are its flagship, the Airbus A340-313X VIP known as “Konrad Adenauer” and its twin, “Theodor Heuss.” The Konrad Adenauer is named after the first Chancellor of (West) Germany and Theodor Heuss is named for its first President. At the end of March 2011, the planes were transferred from Lufthansa airline to the special unit of the military’s administration dedicated to government transport. Until then, the airplanes had been used for regular passenger flights for Lufthansa Airlines.
After numerous remodelling and reconstruction projects, the aircraft were transformed into comfortable, modern, and secure personal aircraft for Angela Merkel. The Airbus A340-313X VIPs can accommodate approximately 150 passengers each. There are apartments with showers, bedrooms, offices, a conference hall with video communication equipment and a completely soundproof room for negotiations.
The air fleet of the German Chancellor is equipped with the IFF (identification, friend or foe) system, systems of missile defence, as well as additional fuel tanks, allowing for non-stop flights up to 13,500 kilometres. This impressive range is enough to get from Berlin to Washington, Beijing or Rio de Janeiro.
Aircraft model estimated base cost
The Konrad Adenauer and the Theodor Heuss are in no way inferior to Donald Trump’s Air Force One or Putin’s IL-96-300PU. Compared to Trump’s Boeing 747-200B, Germany’s Airbus A340-313X VIP can carry more passengers (147 instead of 102). Konrad Adenauer and Theodor Heuss cost approximately 230 million pounds each.
France has spared no expense for the air transport of former president François Hollande. The aircraft of the Fifth Republic's ex president, the Airbus A330-200, is elegant and modern, costing around 210 million pounds. Similar to the other planes of world powers with nuclear weaponry, François Hollande’s primary aircraft is not purely a comfortable means of transport for long distances. It is also a management centre, that allows for real-time command of the main governmental bodies and military troops.
The former French president’s Airbus A330-200 has a bedroom with a large bed, a bathroom, a dressing room, a kitchen, an office, a soundproof negotiation room for 12 people, a mini operating room, as well as a space designated for journalists and members of the delegation accompanying him. Communication equipment on the airliner includes a number of secure connection channels that are capable of passing top secret information and encrypted messages.
The history behind the Fifth Republic’s acquisition of the Airbus A330-200 is an interesting one. Prior to 2010, leaders of France used an Airbus A319 for official air travel. However, in 2009 an incident occurred with one of the planes. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France at the time, led the representational governmental delegation on a multi-day tour across the countries of the African continent. Prior to takeoff, the plane was forced to return from the airstrip due to the failure of one of the A319 engines. Although the reserve aircraft’s system worked perfectly throughout the rest of the tour, upon the President's return to France, the decision was made to sell both of the Airbus A319s. They purchased one Airbus A330-200 that was previously in use by François Hollande.
Hollande’s Presidential fleet
The air fleet of the former French president also includes two reactive Dassault Falcons 7Xs. These aircraft were purchased in 2009 and 20103 due to their universality, as they are equally proficient in both relatively short and transatlantic flights. Additionally, these smaller planes are much more suitable to some of the shorter airstrips in France and countries of its primary interests.
During the presidency of Sarkozy, one of the Falcon 7Xs was named after the First Lady of the country, Carla Bruni. It is difficult to say why, but former president François Hollande, who replaced Nicolas Sarkozy, still used the name when he could have easily renamed it.4
The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has been surrounded by gold and gems from his childhood. That’s why it’s not surprising, that the prince’s private jet is nicknamed the “Flying Palace”.7
The purchase of the “Flying Palace,” an Airbus A340-212, cost the prince 80 million pounds. An additional 95 million pounds has been spent on the reconstruction and modernisation of the airplane, all of which took place in the United States. The aircraft makeover not only added an incredibly luxurious cabin, decorated with precious metals, gems and valuable wood, but also significantly developed its flight features. Due to the installment of the additional fuel tanks, the ultimate non-stop flight range of the Sultan of Brunei’s personal air force increased to 15,000 kilometres, whereas the basic model is only 12,500 kilometres.
Due to the size of the prince’s A340-212, his travel is strictly limited by the capacity of the destination’s airstrip. Other than the Sultan’s airplane, there have only been three other aircraft produced with these modifications.
Other than the Airbus A340-212, the air fleet serving the monarch and his family consist of VIP modifications of a Boeing 747-430, a Boeing 767-270 and two Sikorsky S-70 helicopters.
Emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani is one of the wealthiest people on the planet. As such, he is the owner of a truly spectacular air fleet used by numerous members of his royal family.8
On official trips of the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is accompanied by an entourage of at least 1,000 people including family members, members of the delegation and service staff. The weight of the carried cargo is measured in tonnes, and consists not only of various personal items for Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, but even includes limousines to be used by Emir in the destination country.
One aircraft, whether passenger or military, is not capable of such a large-scale transfer. This is why most of the Emir of Qatar’s trips, both official and unofficial, are completed by multiple airplanes. Qatar’s delegation once arrived to negotiations with the prime minister of Japan using 10 aircraft, and to Switzerland using 8 aircraft.
The individual transportation of the head of the government, his family members, and higher government officials is carried out by a separate VIP airline, Qatar Amiri Flight, set up in 1977 and property of Qatar’s government. Most of the airplanes in Qatar’s fleet have the colours of the official national carrier of Qatar, Qatar Airways, on their sides.
Qatari royal fleet
By the end of August 2016, the VIP fleet of the Qatar Amiri Flight airline consisted of 14 aircraft, the cost of each exceeding 80 million pounds.9 The Emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani has an Airbus A319-100 (CJ), three Airbus A320-200s, two Airbus A330-200s, two Boeing 747-8 BBJs, an Airbus А310-300, an Airbus А340-200, an Airbus А340-300 and Airbus А340-500 at his disposal.
Other than the aircraft mentioned above, the Emir of Qatar occasionally uses a business jet Bombardier Global Express BD-700-1A10 and a military transport airplane, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, for personal use. Both of the aircraft are painted in the official livery of Qatar Airways.
According to information published on the official website of the President of Kazakhstan, in 2016 Nursultan Nazarbayev actively travelled around the world and made official visits to 15 countries (some of them more than once). Altogether, the president of Kazakhstan has spent 140 hours in the airplane and travelled for over 99,000 kilometres, two and a half times the equator’s circumference.10 The leader’s comfort and security during his voyages are provided by the staff of the state airline, Berkut.
Berkut’s statute law has clear guidelines on its main purpose, which is the “provision and implementation of the important flights of the Kazakhstan Republic.” The prompt governance of the enterprise is completed by the department of the Presidential Affairs of Kazakhstan Republic.11
The airline fleet consists of over 10 airplanes and helicopters of various sizes, however, not all of them are intended for use by the head of state. For access to hard-to-reach areas and short distances, Nursultan Nazarbayev uses one of the specially organized Mil Mi-8 helicopters. To accomplish longer trips (up to 2,500 kilometres), state airline Berkut offers Bombardier СRJ-200 and Embraer-135 aircraft for presidential use.
Base aircraft model cost
The most important of the government aircraft are the Airbus A320-214 (CJ) Prestige, Airbus A321-211 (CJ) and Airbus A330-243 Prestige. The latter is the indisputable leader of the state airline of Kazakhstan. Nursultan Nazarbayev uses this airplane for the largest political and economic forums, such as G-20, as well as for the official visits to countries like the United States, China, Russia and Japan. According to different evaluations, the cost of the air force of Kazakhstan’s president, including the cost for the refitment, may exceed 195 million pounds.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is one of the smallest Arab states in the world. However, rich deposits of minerals made this island kingdom one of the wealthiest in the Persian Gulf basin. As such, the head of the royal family, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, is considered one of the world’s richest men.
Bahraini royal fleet
The official aircraft of the King of Bahrain is a state airline of Bahrain Royal Flight, founded in 1981. At the moment, its air fleet consists of six aircraft: a Boeing Business Jet BBJ2, two Boeing 747-400s, a Boeing 767-400ER, a Gulfstream G-IV and a Bell 430. Each one is a VIP configuration and is intended exclusively for the members of the royal family and high government officials.
The most recent purchases of the Bahrain Royal Flight airline were a Boeing 767-400ER and a Boeing Business Jet BBJ2. VIP interiors in both airplanes were completed by the corporation Lufthansa Technik. Due to ethical considerations, the company has released extremely limited information on the interiors. Judging by the fragmented information and photographs that have leaked, the passenger deck of the flagship of the King of Bahrain’s air fleet is divided into two autonomous zones with a separate VIP private living room and a negotiation area.13 In the airplane cabin, there are also individual VIP cabins and bedrooms, though the exact number is unknown. The government installed medical equipment on board, including an operating room with life support devices and advanced systems of water purification.
After the decoration of the interior of the Boeings was completed, they were sent from the centre in Hamburg to Dublin’s Lufthansa painting station where they were painted in the official colors of the Bahrain Royal Flight airline.
The long-haul Boeing 767-400 is different from the earlier versions of the 767 by its longer fuselage and increased wing span. The Boeing 767-400ER offers increased flight range exceeding 10,000 kilometres when fully loaded.
There is very little known about the second airplane passed from Lufthansa Technik to Bahrain Royal Flight, the Boeing Business Jet BBJ2. The only available information is that it has been designed by the best professionals of a famous London international design studio.
Businessman Alisher Usmanov is regularly ranked among the wealthiest people in Russia14 and the top 50 most influential people in the world. He owns a business jet Airbus A340-300, the cost of which exceeds 270 million pounds.
The aircraft is registered on the Isle of Man. The first letter of the jet’s name is given after the ‘Man’ - M-IABU. The rest of the letters can be translated as “I’m Alisher Bourkhanovich Usmanov.” Moreover, the A340-300 also has its own name, BOURKHAN, which is the name of Usmanov’s father.
The Airbus A340-300 is the biggest business jet in the Russian Federation. Based on size, it is only inferior to the giant А380. The catalogue value of Alisher Usmanov’s personal air fleet’s flagship is at least 238 million dollars. Counting the cost of the refitment and VIP cabin additions, the cost could easily exceed 250 million.
For a business jet, this high price tag is not excessive. Experts believe the A340-300 has a good balance between price and quality.15 Thanks to its four engines, the airliner is capable of all air routes and has a huge capacity, which is important for the protection and safety of the owner. There have been reported cases of four-engine airliners crossing the Atlantic Ocean with only three engines working. This, of course, is not possible for aircraft running on only two engines.
However, the A340-300 is not a good choice for the civil air fleet because of its high costs and high fuel consumption. Today’s economy requires that airline companies decrease costs wherever possible. This is why the fuel economy of the air fleet comes to the forefront and the A340-300 carriers prefer the economically-friendly, two-engine А330.
Another Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich, has a number of airplanes in his personal fleet, including a Boeing 767-33AER. His first private jet was a Boeing Business Jet (VIP modification of Boeing 737-700) purchased during the time of Roman Abramovich’s work in Russia. After becoming the governor of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the politician and businessman discovered first-hand the inaccessibility of that region. Regular flights were carried out from Moscow to Anadyr with a compulsory stop in Igarka for refuelling, but a direct flight to this location had a number of indisputable advantages.
The next of Roman Abramovich’s aircraft purchases was a Boeing 767-33AER. It was originally ordered by Hawaiian Airlines, but they cancelled the order in 2004. It was then purchased by the Russian businessman.16 After the paperwork was finalized, the aircraft was sent for refitment and received registration in Aruba. Currently, it is based in London Stansted airport—part of Harrods Aviation. The catalogue value of the 767-33AER exceeds 1.5 million pounds.17 When considering the cost of all refitment and equipment of the VIP cabin, the total cost could easily reach 300 million dollars.
Roman Abramovich’s Boeing 767-33AER has a bright, easily recognisable colouring with white, grey and brown lines. The slanting black stripes near the end windows of the cockpit resemble a mask. These unique exterior markings gave the plane notoriety and the nickname “Bandit.”18
The inside of the aircraft has been drastically modified from the standard version. The airliner cabin is equipped with a banquet hall with accommodations for 30 people, a kitchen, an office and a bedroom with a double bed. Precious metals and fine woods make up the lavish décor of the airplane’s interior. In addition, the aircraft is equipped with the newest communication and security systems including Abramovich’s own anti-ballistic defence system, the cost of which exceeds two million dollars. Based on the inner furnishings and functionality of the Russian businessman’s aircraft, it rivals the airplanes of many world leaders.
South African President Jacob Zuma’s presidential aircraft is a Boeing BBJ, named Inkwazi; the Zulu word for an African fish eagle. His fleet, operated by the 21 Squadron of the South African Air Force, also includes a Dassault Falcon 900, a Falcon 50 and a Cessna Citation II. These aircraft are used by the president, his entourage and high-ranking government officials.
The cost of Jacob Zuma’s Inkwazi
The South African National Defence Force purchased the Boeing BBJ in 2001. At the time, the expected cost of establishing the presidential aircraft was 600 million South African rand (approximately 45 million dollars). This price included statutory and clearance costs, delivery and management costs, initial spare parts, specialist support equipment and flight operations for two years.19
Interior of Jacob Zuma’s Boeing BBJ
The Inkwazi was designed and outfitted by Jet Aviation of Basel, Switzerland. The aircraft is equipped with seating for 18 guests and six crewmembers, and decorated in a contemporary, African-influenced theme. The interior of the BBJ is a luxurious configuration comprised of four sections: a lounge with a convertible bed, a master office, a senior executive office and an executive space. There is also a crew rest area, a galley and a restroom onboard. The communication tools initially built into the aircraft included SATCOM, telephone and fax.20
Controversy surrounding the Boeing BBJ
Inkwazi has recently experienced a number of technical problems that the presidency has called “embarrassing,” including breakdowns in Qatar and Burundi. As such, Jacob Zuma has reportedly been shopping for a new aircraft. However, when the media caught wind of the potential upgrade he came under fire for his extravagant spending, and now Zuma seems to have put the purchase on hold. In the meantime, the government has paid for President Zuma to charter a similar Boeing BBJ for long-haul flights, though many experts say that Inkwazi is in safe working order.21
North Korea is the most secretive country in the world, however some details of Kim Jong-un’s private plane are available. The Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea travels in a modified Cold War-era Ilyushin IL-62 named “Chammae-1” after a hawk species native to North Korea. The IL-62 was the largest jet airliner in the world when it first flew in 1963, was produced until 1995. Now, due to the aircraft’s age and high operating costs, no more than 14 are in government or commercial operation.22
Interior of Kim Jong-un’s Ilyushin IL-62
While a fully-equipped Ilyushin IL-62 can accommodate 200 passengers, Kim Jong-un’s aircraft is a VIP configuration similar in scale to the United States’ Air Force One. Photos released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency show Kim Jong-un inside his lavishly-decorated aircraft. The photos show a plush interior, decorated with oversized white leather chairs, shiny rosewood tables and a crystal ashtray.23
Cost of the Chammae-1
The cost of the original plane and its subsequent modifications are unknown. A photo that can be dated between 2012 and 2014 shows Kim Jong-un inside the IL-62 when it was outfitted with outdated 1980s-style decor and since then, the interior of the plane appears to have undergone significant renovations. Official photos of Kim Jong-un inside the aircraft were released by the Korean Central News Agency in February 2015.24
The Supreme Leader’s love of flying
Kim Jong-un’s father, former North Korea leader Kim Jong-il, was afraid of flying and traveled to China and Russia by private armored train. Kim Jong-un, on the other hand, is reported to have a deep admiration for aviation. Since he came into power, he has built small runways long enough to land light aircraft near each of his family compounds. The country’s state television channel has shown videos – which may be doctored – of Kim piloting planes, including a small single-engined plane similar to a Cessna that was manufactured in North Korea.25
The President of South Korea’s flagship aircraft is a Boeing 747-400, on lease from Korean Air. The president’s impressive fleet also includes one Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, two military CASA CN-235s and a Boeing 737-300, which he uses for domestic travel. The entire fleet is painted white, with a red and blue line along the side and a blue and red design on the tail.
Inside Moon Jae-in’s Boeing 747-400
There are limited details available on the interior of the Jae-in’s Boeing 747-400. The base cost of a Boeing 747-400 is approximately 240 million dollars, however the cost of the lease agreement with Korean Air has not been reported.
Possible upgrade to a Boeing 747-800
There is speculation that South Korea plans to replace President Moon Jae-in’s 747-400 with a 747-800 for international travel. This four-engine aircraft is one of Boeing’s newest models, with the capacity to carry between 210 and 330 passengers. The 747-800 is heralded as one of the most fuel-efficient aircraft on the market and is made primarily with composite materials. The four-engine jet would cost approximately $350 million if the purchase goes through.26
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his entourage travel in a Dassault Falcon 900. Details on the presidential plane are scarce, but the aircraft likely has a highly advanced security system. The Falcon 900 is a large-cabin trijet lauded for its performance, efficiency and comfort.27 The aircraft cruises at about 555 mph, while burning 30-40% less fuel than other jets in its category. A range of over 5,000 miles allows for flights from Damascus to destinations as far away as Beijing.
Interior of President Assad’s Falcon 900
No details are available on the interior of Bashar al-Assad’s presidential plane. The cabin of a Falcon 900 is typically configured into three distinct areas, with a separate lounge, an office and a master bedroom with queen-sized bed and spacious shower.
The cost of Bashar al-Assad’s presidential plane
The cost of the plane and its subsequent security modifications are unknown, however in 2015 the catalogue cost of a Dassault Falcon 900LX was $43.3 million.28
In 2014, the Israeli government approved a plan to purchase a private jet for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The budget for the aircraft, which will also be used by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, is $70 million. The plane will feature advanced defense technologies and specialized communications systems, with a long range allowing nonstop flights from Israel to North America.29
Details on the Israeli presidential plane
Israel’s Channel 2 reports that the aircraft is a Boeing 767 that is currently being outfitted by Israel Aerospace Industries. The photos broadcast by the network were blurred to comply with military censorship.30 The Boeing 767 is a wide-body twin-engine jet airliner with the capacity to accommodate up to 375 passengers, depending on its configuration.
Netanyahu’s current aircraft
Until the arrival of the new Israeli presidential plane, the Prime Minister will continue chartering aircraft. Each time he makes a trip, all three of Israel’s airlines compete to provide a charter – however, as El Al is the only airline with the capacity to accommodate long-range flights, it has a monopoly on most of the Prime Minister’s international travel.
Before 2003, the highest government officials traveled in an Air Force 707, which also served as a refueling plane and was rumored to be uncomfortable. In 1997, a window cracked while Netanyahu was on board, so the pilot had to fly at a low altitude.31
Controversy surrounding the plane
While the plan to provide the Israeli Prime Minister with a new private jet is well underway, many Israelis consider it to be an extravagant expense. In 2013, Netanyahu came under fire from the media for spending $127,000 to outfit an El Al plane with a double bed for a five-hour flight to London when the aircraft already had a business or first class cabin with reclining seats.32 However, the government considers the aircraft to fill a major national security need.33
Famous for his frugality, it’s no surprise that Pope Francis doesn’t own a private jet. Instead, the Vatican chooses private jet charter, hiring an Airbus A330-200 from Alitalia for the Pope’s intercontinental travels.34 When the Pope is onboard, the aircraft is called the “Raffaello Sanzio”, named after the Renaissance painter who painted the Popes of his time, and is marked with the Papal shield.
Inside the Raffaello Sanzio
The Airbus A330 is a twin-aisle wide body plane considered to be among the most reliable aircraft in the sky.35 The cabin is quite large, with the capacity to carry 247 passengers. Unlike many planes in a presidential aircraft fleet, the Airbus A330-200 is not equipped with an office, conference room or private bedroom. Instead, the Raffaello Sanzio is the same plane Alitalia uses for commercial flights, with 20 business class seats and 263 in coach. The Pope typically sits in the first row of business class, with the entire row to himself.
The Pope’s entourage
The only time the Pope grants interviews to reporters is while he’s in-flight. As such, the plane’s coach cabin is typically filled with journalists from international newspapers, magazines and television networks. Alitalia offers a discounted charter rate to the Pope and the journalists pay their own fare. Befitting of his nickname, “The People’s Pope”, Pope Francis typically spends time on board bantering with the journalists and giving blessings in the coach cabin.
VIP air transportation is in high demand. The services of luxurious business jets and customized aircraft are used not only by the heads of states and government officials, but by high-powered business tycoons. Both can own personal air fleets with size and quality parallel to the richest monarchies of the Persian Gulf.
Financial constraints can keep even the most successful businessmen from owning an air fleet as big as, for example, Vladimir Putin’s air fleet. The special squad is the record holder for having the largest number of airplanes and helicopters totalling 68 and 64 respectively. Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani holds the record for the largest number of airplanes used for a government visit (up to 10), and is the leader of the highest costing air fleet, exceeding 1.15 billion pounds. During official trips, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani heads the largest air delegation of often 1,000 people, including family members, government representatives and the aircraft crew.
The President of the United States has the oldest personal aircraft. Each of his VC-25A have been in use for more than 25 years. The Prime Minister of Japan, The King of the Saudi Arabia and the Sultan of Brunei all currently have more modern aircraft than Donald Trump.
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Airbus A330 has the biggest passenger capacity (around 160 people) among the leaders discussed in this analysis. The biggest business jet in the Russian Federation, Airbus A340-300 is owned by the businessman, Alisher Usmanov. According to its size, the aircraft is inferior only to the giant A380.
The achievement for the most modesty among the government leaders discussed in this analysis goes to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, who does not own a personal aircraft. Instead, the leader of the People’s Republic of China uses two Boeing 747-400s which belong to the Air China airline. They are altered before his trip and are returned to regular passenger flights after Xi Jinping returns to China.
From the 1.15 billion pound fleet of the Qatari Royal Family to the more modest aircraft choices of the General Secretary of China’s Communist party, Xi Jinping, we’ve examined some of the greatest leaders of our time and their aircraft of choice. The results show that while not all leaders have an ostentatious taste in aircraft, the majority prioritize comfort and luxury.
While the exact age of Kim Jong-un’s presidential plane is unknown, it may outdo the United States as the oldest aircraft currently in use by a world leader. The Russian-made Ilyushin IL-62 was in production from 1963 to 1995. While the interior of the North Korean leader’s private jet recently underwent a plush renovation, older photos from inside the aircraft show more dated decor.
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