UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sent an A330 air-to-air refueling tanker to Cambridgeshire for repainting. The grey military jet will be getting a patriotic red, white and blue makeover, at a cost to the taxpayer of almost a million pounds. The move has sparked criticism, coming at a time when much of the country is on shaky financial ground and concerned for the future.
A million-pound makeover
It seems to be the time of year for spending on VIP planes. We’ve had a look at Air India’s new VIP Boeing 777s, due to be delivered by September, as well as the US’ Air Force One planes, which are a little further off but wildly expensive nonetheless. And, of course, Ms Merkel’s shiny new A350 was delivered last month.
Now, it’s the turn of the UK for an upgrade. The Royal Air Force VIP plane, used by PM Boris Johnson as well as other senior members of government, is getting a fresh and very patriotic coat of paint. The giant RAF Voyager, inaugurated in 2016 by then-Prime Minister David Cameron, will be repainted from its current RAF grey to a Union flag-inspired red, white and blue color scheme.
Scathingly dubbed the ‘Brexit Jet,’ the specifics of the new scheme are being kept under wraps, although it has been confirmed it will be based on the Union flag colors. What we do know, however, is the cost. Funding Boris’ plane makeover will cost the UK taxpayer £900,000 ($1.13m).
A Downing Street spokesperson told the Guardian about the makeover, saying,
“The RAF Voyager used by the royal family and the PM is currently in Cambridgeshire for pre-planned repainting. This will mean that the plane can better represent the UK around the world with national branding, which will be in line with many other leaders’ planes.”
Unacceptable use of public funds
While Downing Street is keen to spin this as a necessary move, the timing does seem a little off. Millions of Brits are worried about their jobs, their future and feeding their children. The Guardian quotes Labour’s Louise Haigh as saying,
“When families across the country are worried about their jobs, health and the education of their children, they will rightly question the government’s priorities when they are spending almost £1m redecorating a plane.”
Other ministers have spoken out too, with Scottish National Party’s Stewart McDonald calling it “an utterly unacceptable use of public funds.”
Naturally, social media has reacted similarly to the news.
"But but but we can be like air force one!!!" pic.twitter.com/opgpgybS6D
— Ellis *monster noises* Miles (@Splendipiti) June 17, 2020
Absolute disgrace with children needing food, pensions at risk, care home fiasco and lack of PPE plus np track and trace. Catalogue of failures and government want to spend money on a plane for their own vanity at a time when every penny counts. Royals can buy their own or pay !
— Lies, dammed lies and "boris the buffoon" (@William49714114) June 18, 2020
Despite criticism, culture secretary Oliver Dowden said that the expense was justified. He believes the plane will help promote the country on the global stage and sees it as a worthy investment for ‘brand UK.’ It does seem like an expensive paint job, however, with TravelStatsMan evaluating the cost of painting a typical widebody at $200,000.
Why does it have to be grey?
It was two years ago when Boris first complained about the Voyager’s appearance. Speaking in Buenos Aries while on an official visit, he lamented the aircraft’s frequent lack of availability, adding, “why does it have to be grey?”.
For those who came here more for the planes than the politics, the UK’s Voyager is the RAF’s one and only air-to-air refueling tanker, an A330 MRTT, which is based at Brize Norton. As well as performing in-air refueling also provides strategic air transport to the military. David Cameron fitted it out with 58 business class seats to transport VIP guests in 2016, making it the first private jet the UK government has ever owned.
To answer the PM’s question, the reason it’s grey is purely for camouflage. The repaint will not only make it more visible when on non-VIP duties, causing something of a headache for Air Force commanders, but it will also signify it as the UK’s VIP transport, potentially making it something of a target.
Johnson’s argument of taking ‘brand-Britain’ around the world doesn’t hold much water either. Most VIP transports are fairly modestly liveried; many are plain white with perhaps a swoop of color somewhere, whereas others remain military grey. There is, of course, one head of state whose VIP transport is somewhat more eye-catching, and is also in the process of getting a new look for the future. Let’s hope they don’t end up looking too similar.
What do you think about Boris’ £1m investment in a pretty plane right now? Let us know in the comments.