RAAF KC-30 tanker to be modified for VIP transport

A Royal Australian Air Force KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport during boom refuelling trials in the United States.
A RAAF KC-30A will be modified for the government transport role. (Defence)

One of the two additional Airbus A330-200s being converted into KC-30A tanker transports for the Royal Australian Air Force is set to be modified with a VIP interior to support long-range government transport needs, Defence has confirmed.

“In addition to its primary role as an air-to-air refueller, the aircraft will provide the secure communications capability, range and passenger capacity to support long-range travel required to enable international engagement with our partners in, for example, North America, Europe and north Asia,” a Defence spokesperson told Australian Aviation sister publication Australian Defence Business Review.

“The modified aircraft will support long-range government transport with accommodation, meeting facilities and communications to allow conduct of normal business in transit.”

The government approved Project AIR 7403 Phase 3 for the acquisition of two additional KC-30As in June 2015. These two aircraft – secondhand ex-Qantas aircraft – will be converted to tanker configuration by Airbus Defence and Space at Getafe, Spain through this year and next.

Further approval to progress the program to modify one of these aircraft to support long-range government transport was granted on February 12 this year. And then on August 3, a contract was signed with Airbus for the modification work on one KC-30A, which includes a government transport and communications capability.

“Detailed design for the modification is ongoing,” the spokesperson said. “However, in broad terms the capability will provide accommodation, secure communications, a meeting room, a working area and airline-style seating.

“The modified aircraft would retain its refuelling capability to respond to Australian Defence Force needs, such as Operation Okra in the Middle East, but will also have the flexibility to conduct long-range government transport.”

The ‘Air-to-Air Refuelling Aircraft – Government transport and communications capability’ program, as outlined in the Integrated Investment Program, is valued at $190 million.

Airbus Defence and Space has subcontracted the government transport modifications to Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. The capability is scheduled to be delivered in 2019.

Comments

  1. Bill says

    Won’t it be a good look when our Prime Minister steps off a plane with a boom and wing-tip refuelling pods fitted? Surely the RAAF could do with one or two dedicated KC-30s that were solely for the purpose of VIP transport to replace the 737 BBJ?

  2. Corey Dark says

    The RAF use their KC-30 Voyager have had one converted to an VIP jet while retaining the air refueling systems for a while now and there is a video about it. It’s about time we had an aircraft and can fly from here to the US with either 1 stop or no stops. It would be nice if the RAAF could get 5 additional tankers and maybe 2 ACJ330 with the refueling receiver and counter measure system removing the boom and drogue but that’ll never happen. Also does this mean the current 737 BBJs will stay in service and undergo a refit or will they be replaced but a new 737-8MAX BBJ?

  3. Ben says

    A dedicated Boeing 777-200LR with VIP layout would be the go if you’re serious about giving Australia it’s own version of ‘Air Force One’. There is a profile of such an aircraft with cabin layout and range maps on the BBJ section of the Boeing website. The advantage of such an aircraft is that you could do Canberra to Washington DC and Canberra to London non stop. You could have 2 of these for long haul flights, a few 737s for domestic and regional international flights and a few VIP configured turboprops or helicopters for short range shuttles or trips to remote areas with small airports. Ultimately though you have to look at if the public would accept the upfront cost of purchasing these aircraft. The overall VIP fleet would still be about the same size (6 aircraft: 2 777s, 2 737s and 2 turboprops or helicopters) although at the moment there are still 5 (2 BBJ and 3 Challenger 604) Also with three different types you would be able to best match the aircraft with the mission. For example the frequent short hops between Sydney and Canberra would make more sense in a large helicopter or VIP configured ATR or Q400 and probably would be more cost effective. However equally, the 777-200LR non stop to London or DC would give the RAAF and the Government ultimate mission flexibility.

  4. Red Barron says

    As a tax payer I have no issue with a dual use aircraft. It always amazing me with some of the comments of “we should have 5 more of these and 8 more of these” etc. As a former armed forces member we do well with what we get.

  5. Mick181 says

    Most people wouldn’t even notice the refueling equipment unless it was pointed out to them. Haven’t heard anything about a new VIP fleet other than the KC-30 Corey. The current leased fleet of 2 x 737s and 3 Challenger 604s are over a decade old by now and comming up for replacement.. Certainly a 12 aircraft KC-30 fleet would be nice but current planning has a fleet of 9, not to bad.

  6. Tim says

    Is this really necessary? Yes the RAF has one KC-30 equipped for VIP transport plus the RJs for the Queen, but. when the Queen or PM go on long trips they simply charter a BA 777.

  7. GAGA says

    Ben, the public would never want to cover the cost of VIP transport for politicians. The public want politicians to travel on the airlines. But the politicians will blow money on luxuries regardless.

    What you’ve suggest is a incredible waste. Why would you need, not one but TWO 300 seat airliners? Top politicians on major trips with their congregation travel in small groups, 10-20 people. Most politicians travel with just one or two other people and go on commercial airlines. You don’t need a private jet and you don’t need so much space. And why would you need a whole fleet of them?

    No one will want to use a Helicopter for Syd-Can. Why would you want to use something that takes twice as long? Unless you could use it to go door-door but Turnball’s house in Sydney doesn’t have space for that.

    With today’s technology, why politicians still insist on wasting so much time and money for face to face meetings is beyond me. Video calls should suffice for nearly everything.

  8. Bill says

    The idea behind such a large aircraft being used for VIP transport we that you could have the capability to take members of the press on the aircraft. After the crash of Garuda Flight 200 in 2007, questions were asked as to why the RAAF operated such a small aircraft that had no real passenger carrying ability. Also, by the time you include briefing rooms, communications suites and the Prime Minister’s quarters, you wouldn’t have a 300 seat ability,maybe closer to 100 but still an improvement on what’s currently available.

    Further to my comment above, if the VIP aircraft was plumbed for AAR operations but not fitted with pods and boom, you could always fit it out if it was needed to operate as a refueller.

  9. GAGA says

    I guess Bill, that you are not interested in independent press? Or do you expect members of the press who’ve been pampered in VIP transport and been rubbing shoulders with government spin doctors not to have developed a spec of bias?

    Also, with a 100 seat capacity as you’ve described, how many members of the media do you want? Five members should be more than enough.

    Futhermore, we only have one prime minister. As I’ve already asked, why would we want more than one VIP 777 (or A330)?

  10. TimC69 says

    For those questioning the cost re dedicated VIP aircraft I for one have no qualms about a duel use aircraft. Also replace the current VIP fleet with 1 KC30(VIP interior) and 4-5 Gulfstream G550 .

    With regards to the KC 30 fleet-10 would be an affordable and sustainable number, and if we go down the path of the Airbus A-400m down the track we’ll have an additional hose and drogue capability.

  11. Stuart says

    In my opinion the Government should have bought 1 x ACJ350 as the Flight Deck would be similar to that of the A330’s, so cross training Pilots / crews would be only a small cost and would have been cheaper in the long run, given the low fuel burn.

    And there would be no requirement for Additional aircraft assets to provide Air to Air Refuelling enroute to say London or Europe. Also, it already has the Ultra long range – 20,000kms to meet our requirement non stop in both directions. City pairs like Canberra – London 17,000kms, Canberra – Washington Dulles 16,000kms.

    Surely There is a cost to the RAAF to keep setting up the interior of the KC30A from VIP config to Standard Military config, when not in VIP mode, or will this be a permanent change?

    Then they could keep 1 x KC30 on standby incase the ACJ350 goes unserviceable.

    Finally buy 2 or 3 ACJ319’s or ACJ320’s for Domestic use or short haul international.

  12. John N says

    A lot of ‘excited’ comments as usual whenever the word ‘VIP’ is used! Bit of a reality check needed here.

    We currently have 5 x KC-30A MRTT’s with the equivalent ‘full’ economy seating layout on the main deck, doesn’t takeaway cargo deck capability or certainly either from the AAR capability one little bit.

    We are now seeing the process begin to convert the two ex commercial A330-200’s into KC-30A configuration.

    The end result is that we will end up with 7 x KC-30A MRTT’s, all with the same cargo deck capability, all with the same AAR capability and one out of the seven will have an altered main deck layout.

    What exactly that is, is not known as yet, but at a guess, instead of an approx. 300 economy seating layout, it may be half the main deck with a VIP fit-out and the rest with economy seating. At the end of the day, who cares?

    Who really cares, as long as that airframe can perform all the roles that the rest of the fleet can perform (and yes with a lower main deck passenger capability), what does it matter?

    And lets not forget also that the DWP also mentioned the option of an additional two airframes in the future to bring the KC-30A fleet to nine airframes, and if one of those ended up with a VIP fit-out, again who cares, as long as the primary capabilities are maintained.

    Appears to be a pretty good dual use of taxpayers money to me!!

    As to the ‘actual’ VIP fleet of 2 x BBJ’s and 3 x Challenger 604’s, well there doesn’t appear to be decision as yet on that fleet of ‘leased’ airframes.

    If the Government was looking to ‘own’ those replacement airframes in the future, possibly G550’s in place of the 604’s (commonality of support with the special mission G550’s) and the BBJ’s with B737 airframes (again commonality of support with the E-7A’s and P-8A’s).

    If those replacements for the five airframes are to be leased again, well that is also ‘who cares’, as long as the airframes do the job required, it will be up to the leasing company to provide the capability and support it too.

    Anyway, looking forward to the extra KC-30A’s, regardless of VIP fitout or not!!!

    Cheers,

    John N

  13. Wendal says

    Are you people serious, those suggesting that the PM should just fly civvy air would be the first to complain because the PM is always stuck in airports and not actually getting any work done or making it to engagements on time etc.

    Come on guys get real they have specific last minute flight requirements and scheduling of course they need their own aircraft.

  14. GAGA says

    Could the next person to say we need this jet airliner and that jet airliner please estimate the cost and justify why it is more beneficial to spend it on VIP transport rather than putting it into things that actually matter like Health care or Education.

    Stuart, there are places to land and refuel between Canberra – London and Canberra – Washington. No additional aircraft assets are required to fly that route. In fact none at all are required as there are multiple airlines that fly that route and are happy to provide seats. As if anyone is going to bother trying to do air to air refueling for a BBJ or A330 to avoid a fuel stop over.

    I would expect that if Government staff approached the airlines and asked for complimentary travel on the occasional official overseas trip for top politicians, the airlines would be happy to provide first class for them for free. It’s cheap, positive publicity for the airline.

    It’s odd Stuart that you worry about the cost of crew cross training and reduced fuel burn which are menial costs (a few $100K perhaps) but then say we need to have more jet airliners to sit on standby and for domestic use. (a lazy ~$500Million cost)

  15. Tony Ryan says

    Having been part of the inaugural B707 crews and recalling the absolute misinformed comments about “Fraser’s private jet” and Bob Hawke’s statement that “If I am elected we will get rid of the B707’s”. , In fact, the Hawke government purchased five more B707’s when he realised that they were first military aircraft fulfilling a role which could, and did, also serve in the AAR role.

    As for the “VIP” fitout in the B707’s, it was a leftover from QANTAS and was very basic. I see no valid reason why the KC 30A should not be utilized in the same way as was the B707. The primary role is in the AAR operations with a pax and freight carrying capability. Maybe the cost savings in having the aircraft operate in a multi-role, including occasional VIP transport, could be put toward fair and just indexing of ADF pension entitlements.

  16. random says

    Anyone who thinks the highest levels of Government officials and parliamentarians should routinely fly civil-air is completely ill-informed.

    There is a significant component of travel that is:

    1. Security sensitive, including the work that occurs on the aircraft, and even the route flown and times the flight occurs
    2. Outside of the typical flight arrangements of even the most accommodating airlines (time, route, destination, security)
    3. Requires flexibility (early or delayed departures).

    Whilst Australia is not the US, the ill-informed should even look at something like the TV show West Wing (which is apparently reasonably accurate) and the employment of Air Force One. A country’s VIP flight is seldom a wasted commodity. Australia’s VIP flight doesn’t need to be excessive, but it does need to exist.

  17. Gary says

    GAGA, obviously not pro ADF then mate. Re the VIP KC30, the aircraft will only receive a rudimentary reconfig and nothing like a gold plated luxury fitout. When not allocated for use by the GG / PM etc it will be used in supporting ADF capability. Yes, we can use civilian airlines to fly to and from official destinations; however, given the state of the world, leaders need to be in constant contact with their senior leadership both civil and military when abroad, also there needs to be enough flexibility in obtaining numerous seats often at extreme short notice. Do you expect an Airlines like QF or VA to have seats quarantined for official travel ‘just in case’ – I think not. Vidcon may be used at times, and is often used today; however, when you have a meetings running over numerous days, appearance in person is much more manageable.

  18. says

    Aside from all of the above, will the VIP bird have the same paint scheme? or perhaps hybrid Coloured roundels and Flash, with perhaps a Blue cheat line and Titles,…just for those who love spotting( Not me)

    Can’t see it all Hi Vis,..in case of break down,..something easy to stencil out

    LOL

    Gordy

  19. rpaps5 says

    I agree that Aust needs it’s VIP fleet – saying we can rely on QF to provide seats any time often on short notice, is naïve at best and ludicrous in the extreme. The aircraft is a Tanker/Transport, the tanker function is totally standard within the fleet and unaffected.
    The Transport capability is the only change, and how often do we need the 270 seat capability anyway.
    The Aust VIP fleet needs to cover the range of capability from major international meetings to in-country gravel airstrips with low loadbearing ratings.
    Saying the PM only needs 5 media to travel with him is nuts – tell the media they can only allocate a total of 5 people to cover a G20 meeting!!
    In a diplomatic sense Aust needs to be seen as a respected middle size power to have policies and stances on issues taken seriously.
    Many cultures Aust regularly interacts with see face-to-face interaction as respectful and essential. Video conferencing can be seen as insulting in many cultures.
    Although not yet decided, my belief is that Aust will receive the KC30A with VIP interior, plus 2-3 large business jet size aircraft which have low pressure tyres and low ACN/PCN ratings allowing access to the myriad small airstrips in Aust/near region, – eg. Global Express/G650/G550/7X and greater use of the 38 Sqn. Kingair 350’s for the smallest locations/trips as used now.
    Any comparison to Airforce 1 should be treated with the disdain it deserves.