Preceded by many airlines because of its high operating cost, Boeing 747 still has loyal customers: presidents, monarchs and other rulers who see in the gigantic aion the space and ideal status to travel the world. Data obtained by Airway shows that the four-engine only loses for popular commercial jets such as the A320 family and the Boeing 737.
The most celebrated “Queen of the Skies”, of course, is Air Force One, the United States presidential plane. Built on the 747-200 model, the aircraft used by Donald Trump is a kind of “flying White House”, capable of accommodating the Republican family, but also several advisors and serve as a platform for communication and strategic decisions in extreme situations. In fact, Trump will replace the two planes for new 747-8 after complaining of the price requested by Boeing.
The 747, however, is most popular in the Middle East where it is used by sheiks, kings and other members of royalty. The aircraft is part of the fleet of countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. But it also carries government staff from China, Japan, South Korea, India, Turkey and Morocco. But India and Japan should soon replace it with the 777, another huge plane but still little used in that role for now.
Another four-engine that has virtually disappeared from commercial aviation also has a significant presence as the presidential plane, the A340. The Airbus aircraft is used in about eight countries including Germany to serve Chancellor Angela Merkel. Its twin-engine variant, the A330, is chosen to carry the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, and also the British Prime Minister Theresa May – here at least the United Kingdom remains in tune with the European Union.
Interestingly, many widebodies are almost ignored in this task as is the case of the old MD-11 and TriStar. But even well-known planes like the 767 or the A310 are rare. One of the few exceptions comes from Israel where the government has decided to convert a 767 for this purpose after renting aircraft from El Al. Undoubtedly, the most embarrassing situation for a president occurs in Mexico. Former President Felipe Calderón has decided to buy a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in 2012, the only case in the world. The luxurious and modern jet, however, was put up for sale by the current president, Andrés Obrador, following his campaign promise.
Using airliners to transport heads of state is a controversial subject. While most Nordic countries prefer not to have this privilege (instead embarking on scheduled flights like any other person) in many nations the VIP fleet impresses as in Turkey where President Recep Erdogan has at his disposal no less than two A319s, one A330 and one A340, all modified to carry air defense systems – not counting a Boeing 747-8 gifted by Qatar and worth $400 millions.
The most common situation found in the world is even to choose large production planes such as the 737 and the A320. The A319 version of Airbus is the most popular of the family with at least 12 countries to use, including Brazil that also maintains two E190 built by local manufacturer Embraer.
The tradition of choosing domestic-made aircraft even occurs in the Netherlands that maintains the old Fokker 70 (of the defunct local manufacturer) in its official fleet. In Russia, obviously, the Ilyushin Il-96 are Vladimir Putin’s flagship as well as the Canadian government still owns the Challenger executive jet in the role.
And despite the large number of new planes such as Boeing’s BBJs and Airbus’s ACJs, not to mention modern executive jets, nations are more likely to take advantage of older, well-priced used aircraft on the market even if they consume more fuel for example.
If having an airplane exclusive to a president is a bad thing in some nations, there are those who prefer to disguise and create an “airline” whose sole purpose is to transport the president of the nation. This is the case of the president Hassan Rouhani of Iran, who travels aboard an Airbus A340 with almost two decades of use. But even this does not seem to be possible after all the sanctions imposed by the United States last year aimed at preventing such a company, Dena Airways, could operate in various parts of the world.
Rouhani may have to appeal to two old airplanes from the Iranian air force’s fleet, the Boeing 707, and of course the 747, among which is the only one that has in-flight refueling capability outside the US, still purchased at the time of Shah Reza Pahlevi, deposed by the Islamic Revolution in 1979.