RAAF Aircraft Museum Research
Yes indeed, the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) is a remarkable aircraft.
Especially with it’s silken wall textiles and leather ceiling trim. The RAAF BBJ’s aren’t luxurious, according the Prime Minstrel, yet the RAAF BBJ’s are kitted out to carry just 36 people, or 30 in ’conference’ mode, around tables. Tell that to the 188 fellow passengers next time you get on board a Virgin Blue flight anywhere within Australia, and see what reaction you get.
To claim that the BBJ’s are no more comfortable than standard domestic business class air transport is a pure and simple lie on the part of Mr Howard, especially considering that beds were recently replaced as a part of interior refurbishments. I stand to be corrected, but as far as I’m aware, even QANTAS doesn’t provide beds in first class international travel accommodation, let alone business class domestic.
Let’s be honest about this issue for a moment. The Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) is a purpose designed commercial passenger jet which is delivered to a separate corporate entity direct from the Boeing factory in Seattle, Washington, as what is called a ’green’ aircraft. Essentially a hollow shell. Capable of flying, and with airworthiness certification, but no fittings inside. Once out of Seattle, they go to one of six after-market outfitters. These outfitters employ designs from some twenty-three external Boeing-recommended and accredited design agencies. These design and completion agencies exist both within the continental United States and internationally. In fact, many BBJ’s are completed in Hamburg, Germany.
The end product which rolls out of any of the six appointed completion agencies is designed to be the ultimate in executive transport of the highest level. Neither utilitarian, nor spartan. Hence the silken wall upholstery and leather ceiling lining. If the photo below is anything to go by, and in comparison to other lavish-looking designs available as eye-candy when one follows the BBJ links, I’d go so far as to suggest that it’s a reasonable representation of the interior of the 34 Squadron BBJ’s housed at the former Fairbairn Airbase, Canberra.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t deny Little Johnny Howler the privilege of travelling in style when he does so. Let’s be honest and admit that international air travel across multiple time zones is tiresome to say the least. Comfort certainly helps allay the strains. I do cast a dark frown at the rather cavalier use of the aircraft as a commuter shuttle between Sydney and Canberra, but as an executive transport on international jaunts for the purposes of furthering friendly international relations, I’m all in agreement with their use. I’m also in agreement with the upkeep and maintenance required to keep the aircraft in ’as-bought’ condition, given that one day they’ll be on-sold to new owners and should fetch as high a resale as possible. What I’m most definitely NOT in agreement with is the tinkering with what is essentially a tool designed to do a job, do it well and do it in a cost efficient manner.
Removal of the number six auxiliary long-range fuel tank from one BBJ to make more room for luggage upsets the weight and balance of an aircraft designed to carry that tank. Take it away and leave an empty space or at best, a partially filled space which doesn’t match the weight and mass the aircraft was designed to carry, and that balance is badly disturbed. There can be no doubt that this is the reason that 34 Squadron pilots complained about the alterations and had the long-range tank replaced. Frankly, even attempting to alter aircraft such as the RAAF BBJ’s without returning them to Boeing for major modifications was not only a waste of Australian taxpayer monies, it was undoubtedly dangerously foolish.
From my perspective as an aircraft enthusiast, I believe the BBJ’s were purchased in haste. The previous governmental international transports – Boeing 707-200’s – needed replacement. Obviously, while the BBJ’s were being considered, the RAAF was also considering the purchase of six 737 series aircraft for conversion to the Airborne Early Warning and Control platforms now known as ’Wedgetail’ aircraft. It’s reasonable to believe that Boeing made the Australian government an offer on the BBJ’s which was hard to refuse. Now we discover that the media train which trails Howard whenever he flies internationally can’t all fit onto the BBJ. We saw the results of journalists having to fly on foreign domestic flights chasing after Australian government dignitaries when a Garuda 737 careened off the runway at Yogyakarta in March this year. I’m not saying that the government needs to cater for a media wagon train, but had it been just a little less amenable to what I suspect was an adept sales pitch, suitably outfitted 757 aircraft, or even an Airbus product would have been a much better choice.
My advice to Howard is quite simply this. Stop being so bloody precious about these aircraft. As inadequate as they may be in the grand scheme. Show the people what they look like inside and stop being so afraid of public opinion for travelling in luxury and style. It’s befitting of the position, and as I said earlier, comfort does allay the curse of jet lag. Sure, you could have made a better choice for executive aircraft, but stop hiding what we, the people, have granted you. And for fuck-sake, stop mucking around with them! Oh, just by the by…….QANTAS have a perfectly adequate business class service Sydney-Canberra seven days a week.