Angela Merkel's New Ride? Germany Considers the Airbus A350 as Its New VVIP Jet
The German government is reported to be considering buying three brand-new Airbus A350 to replace its aging fleet of A340s as VIP transports. This would give Germany the most modern fleet of VIP government jets. The US, Russia and other states have larger fleets and airplanes, but they tend to be older generations, like the 1990s vintage Boeing 747s used as Air Force One or the Soviet-era Ilyushins that ferry around the Russian president.
According to German magazine Der Spiegel, the German Ministry of Defence is now ready to move ahead with the purchase of the A350s, costing 150 million euros ($172 million) each. The first one could join Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe, as early as 2020. Normally, it takes years from order to delivery of a large jetliner, but the German government is hoping to take advantage of other airlines' cancelled or postponed orders, thus effectively jumping the line for delivery.
In order to move quickly, the jets may not be fitted to normal VVIP standards, which in itself costs around 150 million euros more per jet and usually includes a bedroom and shower facilities. The planes would certainly be adapted to include security and communications features, though. Nonetheless, Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the federal government's senior ministers would be traveling in relative comfort, as the jet would feature traditional First and Business Class cabins.
An Airbus A350 at the 2017 Dubai Air Show. Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG
The move follows a string of very public embarrassments with the existing two Airbus A340s used as government transports, both 20-year old planes bought used from Lufthansa. In November last year, Merkel's A340 was forced to make an emergency landing in Cologne only an hour into a flight from Berlin to Argentina due to a serious technical issue. Eventually, Merkel, with a reduced delegation, was forced to continue her journey on a commercial airliner via Madrid on Iberia and missed the start of the G20 summit.
The November incident was only one in string of other similar embarrassments over the years, though the most high-profile and potentially dangerous one. Last week, Germany's president was forced to start a tour of Africa later than planned because of minor issues with his jet. The Luftwaffe is so nervous about similar embarrassments that both A340 jets will be on standby next week for when Merkel is due to travel to Japan.
The A340s are named "Konrad Adenauer" and "Theodor Heuss", the first Chancellor and first President of the postwar Federal Republic of Germany. They joined the Luftwaffe fleet in 2009 from Lufthansa, following extensive cabin refurbishment to make them fit for travel by both the Chancellor, President and other senior members of the government. The A340, the first long-haul plane made by Airbus, debuted in service in 1993 and has since been phased out by most of its operators.