Canadians got their first look Wednesday inside the VIP jet that will be taking the prime minister and the Governor General on their travels around the world.
The eight-year-old Airbus A-330-200, which the government purchased last year from Kuwait Airways, is also expected to transport King Charles to Canada for his first visit as sovereign.
The official jet, known to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as Airbus 02, arrived in Canada on August 31. It has been parked at the Canada Reception Centre beside the main terminal at Ottawa’s international airport.
It replaced Airbus 01, a smaller Airbus A-310 originally built for the now-defunct Canadian airline Wardair in 1987.
Canada has bought five used A-330s from Kuwait Airways for about $50 million US apiece, a price far lower than the cost of a new aircraft.
Airbus 02 is the first of those to be delivered; a second A-330 is expected to arrive this winter, with three more to follow. The four aircraft not earmarked for VIP transport are to be used for military transport and to refuel RCAF planes and other NATO aircraft in flight.
The government also has hired Airbus’s military arm to build another four new jets to transport Canadian Armed Forces personnel across Canada and around the globe, and for mid-air refueling.
While the VIP fleet has been based in Trenton, Ont. in the past, the new planes will be stationed in two locations, one in the east and one in the west. The Department of National Defence has not yet announced where the aircraft will be based.
The A-330s are substantially larger than the old jets and will require new hangars.
Longer range, better protection
The new planes also have a range 4,000 kilometres longer than the old jet — long enough to fly from Ottawa to Tokyo non-stop.
Canadians who fly to Asia on Air Canada think nothing of direct flights from Toronto or Vancouver to major Asian cities. The last three prime ministers, meanwhile, have had to stop in Alaska to refuel while on official trips.
The RCAF tells CBC news the entire A-330 fleet will be equipped with a “self-protection system” to defend against missile attacks.
Kuwait Airways has posted photos of its A-330 fleet showing a three-class layout familiar to international air travellers.
Early Wednesday morning, reporters invited to inspect the new plane before its first official flight — taking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the APEC summit in San Francisco — found the layout hadn’t changed since the aircraft was acquired from Kuwait Airways.
Earlier this year, a senior Canadian government official told CBC News that a VIP cabin would be installed in the new plane at some point.
The outgoing Airbus 01, which is still being used by the RCAF as a transport, has an outdated interior from the early 1990s.
Passenger seats on Airbus 01 have no AC power outlets. The RCAF crew had to string power bars along the floor to allow passengers to work on their laptops. In-flight movies were projected on the aircraft cabin’s bulkhead wall.
More elbow room
Passengers travelling on government business are expected to be in full business attire when they deplane. Airbus 02 boasts an accessible washroom, which allows passengers a little more room to change clothes.
The accessible washroom is also expected to be very popular with security staff who need a spot to adjust their body armour.
Reporters who checked out Airbus 02 on Wednesday reported the aisles remain too narrow for a standard wheelchair. The RCAF says it has a compact wheelchair model for use on the jet.
They also reported that the plane’s in-flight entertainment system and the wi-fi at the back of the aircraft are not working yet. It’s expected that senior government officials will have in-flight access to wi-fi.
The 1980s-era Airbus 01 was starting to show its age. It became harder to maintain as parts became more scarce.
In September, Trudeau was delayed in Delhi for two days by an aircraft maintenance issue at the end of the G20 Summit.
A part for the aircraft had to be sent from Canada before Airbus 01 could start the long journey home.
Airbus A-330s have been used for many years by Air Canada and Air Transat.
An Air Transat A-330 glided with no working engines to a safe landing in the Azores after a fuel problem caused it to run out of gas back in 2001.
The A-330 is also used by many world leaders, including the leaders of France, the U.K. and Australia.