Boris Johnson is repainting the UK prime minister’s plane from grey to red, white and blue — for $1.1 million

Jun 18, 2020

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants the aircraft that he and senior members of the royal family use to look a little more representative of the country’s colors. His office said this week that the government’s official Airbus A330 was in the process of getting a red, white and blue “rebranding” to “better represent” the country when the aircraft travels internationally. Currently, the aircraft is painted grey, just like all other transport airplanes used by the Royal Air Force.

The repainting will cost about £900,000, or $1.1 million, according to the British government. The paint job in the colours of the Union Jack represented “value for money,” the government said, but opposition politicians disagreed, saying the money should have been spent to help coronavirus victims. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told a press conference the expense was part of an effort to promote Great Britain around the world.

Related: How does the royal family fly?

The plane is known as Voyager in Royal Air Force service, and it’s one of a fleet of nine A330s used as transport and tankers for inflight refueling of other aircraft. It’s used by the prime minister, other ministers and senior members of the royal family when they travel on official engagements. Then-prime minister David Cameron began using it in 2016, after a retrofitting that cost £10 million, or $12.4 million. According to the government, using the Voyager to fly senior officials was going to be cheaper than chartering commercial jets, as had been done until then. At that point the United Kingdom was, in fact, the only one among the Group of Seven industrialized countries without a dedicated government VIP jet.

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AKROTIRI, CYPRUS - DECEMBER 03: A RAF Voyager returns to RAF Akrotiri from the first sortie flown following the decision by the UK government to approve air strikes in Syria on December 3, 2015 in Akrotiri, Cyprus. The RAF has sent two further Tornado aircraft and six Typoons to bolster aircraft now flying sorties to both Iraq and Syria. The UK government voted yesterday to authorise air strikes against so-called Islamic State targets in Syria. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)


The Voyager is a militarized version of the Airbus A330-200, which several other air forces around the world use as flying tanker and transport. The A330 MRTT, for “multi-role tanker transport,” almost became the new main tanker for the U.S. Air Force too. In 2008, the European jet was selected by the USAF over the Boeing KC-46, a derivative of the 767 — but a protest by Boeing led to a re-bidding of the contract and a victory by the American company.

The prime ministerial A330 is currently in Cambridgeshire, where it’ll be undergoing the repainting. Even when it gets its new paint job, the Voyager will still be able to perform its duties as tanker and military transport.

“This will mean that the plane can better represent the U.K. around the world with national branding, which will be in line with many other leaders’ planes”, a Downing Street spokesperson told The Guardian.

Other world leaders are getting new or updated modes of transportation. In March, we got a first look at the new German Airbus A350, used to carry the chancellor, president and other high-level officials. And in the U.S., the president will get two new Air Force Ones when the very expensive modification of two civilian Boeing 747s is completed in 2024.

Featured photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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