The plane that will eventually shuttle Germany’s chancellor around the world operated a pretty remarkable journey this weekend, though I’m not sure I totally get why…
German Air Force getting three A350s
In 2019, Germany’s government purchased three Airbus A350-900s, which will eventually act as Germany’s “Air Force One,” and carry top officials around the world. One A350 is being delivered in 2020, while the other two will be delivered in 2022.
Germany’s new ACJ350
These were the first-ever orders for the ACJ350, with the “ACJ” standing for “Airbus Corporate Jet.” In other words, this is the private jet version of the popular A350.
How the interior of an ACJ350 could look
Previously Germany’s top government plane was an Airbus A340-300, which had too many mechanical issues. In 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had to fly commercial to the G20 because of this.
Anyway, the first ACJ350 was delivered from Airbus earlier this year. First Lufthansa Technik did some work on the plane, and during that time the plane had the civilian registration code D-AGAF. As of a few months ago the German government took over the plane, and it now has the registration code 10+03.
Germany’s A350 flew around the world in a weekend
Germany’s first A350 has operated several flights in recent months, though nothing quite like the three leg trip that the plane operated over the weekend:
- On Friday, November 20, the A350 flew from Cologne to Canberra, which took over 19 hours
- On Sunday, November 22, the A350 flew from Canberra to Papeete, which took about 6.5 hours
- On Monday, November 23, the A350 flew from Papeete to Cologne, which took nearly 18 hours
The route that the A350 flew this weekend
In total, the A350 flew around 24,000 miles, and the Cologne to Canberra flight in particular was one of the longest A350 flights ever, at over 10,000 miles. That beats out Singapore Airlines’ nonstop Singapore to New York flight.
The Papeete to Cologne flight is an interesting one as well, as it’s very similar to the Papeete to Paris flight that Air Tahiti Nui operated several months back, which was one of the longest 787 flights ever, and also the longest nonstop domestic flight ever.
Why was this flight operated, though?
There were no passengers or diplomats onboard, but rather this whirlwind trip was apparently operated for crew training purposes. Beyond that we don’t actually have details of what kind of training we’re talking about, though understandably there have been a lot of questions about this, given how costly and wasteful (on the surface) this amount of flying is.
Does anyone have any guesses as to why this trip specifically had to be operated?
- Most training can be done in simulators, and you’d think training in the plane would largely be practicing takeoffs and landings, no? Or do the pilots flying around Germany’s top diplomats do all of their training on “real” planes?
- Was this about testing the limits of the plane, or testing the limits on pilot fatigue?
Admittedly most government planes are hard to track online, so we don’t really know how often flights like this happen. However, I don’t recall seeing anything quite like this before.
The German government’s first Airbus A350 has been doing quite some test flying in recent weeks, though nothing quite like what it did this past weekend, as it flew from Cologne to Canberra to Papeete to Cologne. Apparently this was done for crew training, though we don’t know much beyond that.
I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of jealous of the people who were on this trip. 😉
Does anyone have any more insights or guesses into why a trip this drastic needs to be operated?
(Tip of the hat to Nico)
What’s the significance of the 10+03 designation? The old Adenauer was 10+21 and the new Adenauer was 16+01. I’m sure there is some symbolic significance.
This guy made an awesome video of the plane landing in PPT. https://youtu.be/kWx5ZldEeAY
I DEFINITELY would NOT want to have been on these flights. Super long flights, almost no down time in the stop cities. No time for sightseeing, and certainly no time to deal with jet lag! UGH.
@jbr no they have none of these capabilities, they are going to be fitted with a self protection system like dircm, military communication and military iff system, basically the same type of equipment as the a340s.
Even though they I stalled an interim VIP cabin, they already did install all essential communication features
I am curious if it can be refueled in the air like Air Force 1, as well as if it's EMP-hardened (also like Air Force 1). It would be interesting to know if the mission statement for their AJ350's is to be able to operate nonstop during wartime, including nuclear war like Air Force 1.
@Andreas It's probably is going to have medevac capability, as all aircraft of the vip fleet have this capability and are often used for that missions. Even the open skies aircraft has medevac capabilities. But not in a sense of mass evacuation, they are fitted typically with just two or four patient transport units. The A310s were used to transport more patients, in future the a321lr, a400m and the a330s will fulfill that role
@AvNerd and @Klavs, correct the arrival caps are all about the government managed quarantine hotels, not the aircraft per se. Organisations that are able to arrange a suitable quarantine facility elsewhere, be they sporting teams, corporations or even film crews, are allowed to do that outside the caps. I'm sure there are similar arrangements for the crews of State Aircraft. Canberra is also a joint civil and military airport, so it could use the military...
@AvNerd and @Klavs, correct the arrival caps are all about the government managed quarantine hotels, not the aircraft per se. Organisations that are able to arrange a suitable quarantine facility elsewhere, be they sporting teams, corporations or even film crews, are allowed to do that outside the caps. I'm sure there are similar arrangements for the crews of State Aircraft. Canberra is also a joint civil and military airport, so it could use the military parking aprons, and as the national capital it's a logical place for a VIP aircraft to have a 'practice' run to.
To AvNerd's point about state capitals being the designated arrival cities for passengers in the capped numbers, Canberra has had two flights IIRC (Kathmandu and New Delhi) and is going to receive another tomorrow (Thursday). Its pax will go into hotel quarantine managed by the ACT government.
Does anyone know if these aircraft have medevac capabilities? I know some airlines have specially modified aircraft which can be used to transport sick or injured people. The seats are taken out and the entire cabin is fitted with beds and medical equipment. Think of large natural disasters like the 2006 tsunami, with thousands of foreigners needing to be sent home.
@AvNerd Military aircraft would get an exemption to arrival caps. I would be shocked if anyone would see this as scheduled service.
My Guess for why it was Canberra is that it's the Australian capital would be the airport any future flights would arrive in with some possible exceptions. Also it could just be easier to get the clearance at Canberra.
I'm more curious about why they flew to Canberra?
Why not one of the other state capitals in Australia (SYD, MEL, BNE, ADL etc) given the current arrival caps for scheduled traffic?
Was there perhaps a tie-up with the RAAF or Aussie government?
I don’t think the interior will look anything like your “could look” photo.
It will be comfortable but functional with no oligarchs or celebrity bling.
German media outlets reported that it was mainly to check how these ultra long range flights are for the crew, similar to qantas first perth london flight. They had medical staff on board to check them. This plane isn't fitted out with any military equipment or real vip cabin yet. The second a350 will have the full vip cabin, communication and defense equipment onboard. After taking this plane into service the first a350 will be...
German media outlets reported that it was mainly to check how these ultra long range flights are for the crew, similar to qantas first perth london flight. They had medical staff on board to check them. This plane isn't fitted out with any military equipment or real vip cabin yet. The second a350 will have the full vip cabin, communication and defense equipment onboard. After taking this plane into service the first a350 will be retrofitted with the whole kit. This was planned pre corona when the air force needed an immediate replacement jet.
I saw the plane parked in Papeete on someone's Instagram story and wondered what it was doing there but couldn't really find anything.
Go figure a day later there's an OMAAT post about it! Thanks Ben, very convenient :)
A long segment over land, another one over water. And both far away from home. Seems to be the right routine to test a military spec passenger aircraft destined to carry the country's decision makers.
Training mission for crew and plane, including fitness tests. See https://www.aero.de/news-37738/Luftwaffe-A350-fliegt-einmal-um-die-Welt.html
Most likely this was an "off station trainer" (OST) mission for the German Air Force to get some real world reps. Yes, all emergency procedures, takeoffs, approaches, and landings can be accomplished in the simulator, but the actual flow of getting the crew to the aircraft, having the attendants purchase meals and operate the galley, testing the satellite connections... all of that working seamlessly together at .85 Mach and while crossing the Pacific Ocean far...
Most likely this was an "off station trainer" (OST) mission for the German Air Force to get some real world reps. Yes, all emergency procedures, takeoffs, approaches, and landings can be accomplished in the simulator, but the actual flow of getting the crew to the aircraft, having the attendants purchase meals and operate the galley, testing the satellite connections... all of that working seamlessly together at .85 Mach and while crossing the Pacific Ocean far from Germany... it can't be simulated.
The US military does similar "OST" type missions, especially for the VIP transportation fleet. They will take the communications team, flight attendants, and pilots. Comm guys will test the comm systems, pilots will work on their flight tasks, and the cabin crew will practice preparing meals and serving them. Usually they don't plan these OSTs to terrible locations.
Before the leader of my country flew in a brand new plane - undoubtedly with special modifications - I'd sure as hell want to have some real life tests completed first.
The whole thing was and is entirely hilarious. First the media is bringing stories almost every day for weeks how this and that airplane, barely used A340s from LH after all, are delayed and need maintenance and this and that, and then these people spend billions of German taxpayer´s money for three luxury jets. Total banana republic this has become.
I didn’t remember Merkel flew commercial in 2018. And .... ugh .... on Iberia.
The German Air Force recently switched its military communication from satellite network A to network B, this flight aimed at testing new equipment and network connectivity, along with a new crewing scheme for their VIP flights.
Two years ago I saw the A340 Konrad Adenauer parked at BOS, when Merkel was in town to give the Harvard commencement address.
The livery was BEAUTIFUL in person! Very classy and classic.
And @Mark is probably right. I'd imagine there were a lot of security protocols (involving both people and technology) that needed to be tested, tried out, rehearsed, etc. before travel involving a head of state.
A journalist at the local Canberra ABC radio station tweeted about this, and posted this video of it arriving here. Not a very good view of the aircraft, though. https://twitter.com/JulianBAbbott/status/1330071219312398336?s=20
The longest flight to Canberra. Before Covid the city only had two international commercial services, QR to and from Doha via Sydney and Singapore Airlines on a triangular route SIN-SYD-CBR-SYD.
How convenient - having to stop in Papeete...
I’m guessing it was testing the safety/military grade equipment installed by the german air force after delivery. Potentially needing to test certain connections from as far from Germany as they’ll ever be to make sure everything is in working order.