• A Falcon VIP aircraft at the 2016 Singapore Airshow. Credit: Nigel Pittaway
    A Falcon VIP aircraft at the 2016 Singapore Airshow. Credit: Nigel Pittaway

The first Dassault Falcon 7X for the RAAF, wearing the serial number A56-001, flew from the manufacturer’s facility in Bordeaux to Little Rock, Arkansas on March 30, to have its VIP interior fitted.

According to an enthusiast aircraft tracking website, the Falcon 7X made the flight using a RAAF callsign (AUSY 603), which is routinely used for international flights.

 ADM understands the aircraft is one of three being acquired to replace the existing Bombardier CL-604 Challengers with No. 34 Sqn at Canberra. They will be used in the Special Purpose Aircraft (SPA) role on domestic and regional VIP operations. 

It is also understood that the two Boeing 737-BBJs have had their leases extended and will be reconfigured for regional operations. The long-haul SPA transport role will be fulfilled by the seventh Airbus KC-30A multi-role tanker transport (MRTT), which is now undergoing completion in Europe, after having had a VIP cabin installed in the forward part of the aircraft. 

The latter aircraft retains a full air to air refuelling capability.

The government has yet to announce the lease of the Falcon 7Xs, reportedly chosen for their three-engine configuration and short-field performance, and with a federal election looming it would seem unlikely that either side would wish to publicise the acquisition of VIP aircraft. 

ADM Comment: Despite the traditional reticence by both main political parties to announce the purchase (or in this case, lease) of VIP aircraft, lest they are accused of elitism, the acquisition makes a lot of sense.

The Challengers were introduced back in 2002 and are now considered too small and too limited in range for a lot of regional tasking, particularly when operating from some Australian regional airports, which have relatively short runways.

The tragic crash of a Garuda Boeing 737 at Yogyakarta in Indonesia in 2007, which killed five Australians travelling with then-foreign minister Alexander Downer, highlighted the inadequacy of the RAAF SPA fleet (in that particular case, the larger BBJ) to carry journalists and embassy and security staff as well as the official entourage.

This prompted a review of the VIP fleet and has resulted in the three-tiered approach currently being introduced.

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