Use RAAF’s VIP jets to get Aussies home, says Labor

written by Adam Thorn | September 15, 2020
A Royal Australian Air Force Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft at Defence Establishment Fairbairn, Canberra. (Defence)
A Royal Australian Air Force Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft at Defence Establishment Fairbairn, Canberra. (Defence)

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to dispatch the RAAF’s business jets to help return expats stranded abroad.

“He can put that in place now,” said Albanese on Tuesday. “This would be a practical step which would make a major difference.”

His comments come a week after Australian Aviation exclusively revealed that the industry body representing international airlines warned the government its members would have no choice but to stop flying to Australia if arrival caps aren’t increased.

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The rules limiting the number of Australians who can return home at any one time were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and have been extended multiple times.

Critics have argued the restrictions have pushed up prices and reduced availability, making it difficult for expats abroad to return home.

“There are two large aircraft, but there are other smaller aircraft available as well,” Albanese said of the RAAF’s fleet.

“It is simply unacceptable that the Prime Minister continues to say that there’s nothing he can do about it and he hopes to have these families home by Christmas. Well, I think those who are desperate to get home should be brought home in September.”

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However, the RAAF’s fleet of business jets, often used for transporting VIPs, has relatively small capacity, considering the government estimates more than 20,000 Australians abroad are trying to return home and some estimate that number to be as high as 100,000.

The RAAF currently has access to three leased Dassault Falcon 7X business jets that can carry 14 passengers; two Boeing 737 Business Jet (BBJ) aircraft that can carry up to 30; and 12 KA350 King Airs that only seat up to eight.

Last year, Australian Aviation reported that the RAAF received the first of three leased Dassault Falcon 7X business jets to replace the Bombardier Challenger CL-604 jets operated by 34SQN in Canberra as VIP special purpose aircraft (SPA).

Three Royal Australian Air Force Dassault Falcon 7X Special Purpose Aircraft on the flightline at Defence Establishment Fairbairn. (Defence)
Three Royal Australian Air Force Dassault Falcon 7X Special Purpose Aircraft on the flightline at Defence Establishment Fairbairn. (Defence)

The Falcon 7X, powered by three P&W PW307A engines, represented a major capability leap from the smaller CL-604, given its larger passenger load, modern flight deck, satellite communications capability and increased range.

Commanding Officer of 34SQN Wing Commander Jason Pont said the Dassault Falcon 7X would have a standard crew of three – pilot, co-pilot and flight attendant – and have seating for 14 passengers.

“With a maximum operating speed of Mach 0.9 and a range of up to 11,000 kilometres, the aircraft can fly from Canberra to anywhere in the world with only one stop,” WGCDR Pont. “Its ability to land at almost any airfield provides notable regional and remote airfield accessibility.”

Last week, Australian Aviation exclusively revealed how the industry body representing international airlines warned the government its members would have no choice but to stop flying to Australia if arrival caps aren’t increased.

In a significant hardening of its position, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said its members “cannot be expected” to “continue indefinitely with such flights on a commercial basis”.

“A target average of at least 100 passengers per arriving flight, while still difficult financially, is far better than 30 or less,” added BARA executive director Barry Abrams.

The organisation’s third statement in short succession came days after it argued the government should allow flexibility on quarantine for those who arrive from areas with fewer COVID-19 cases.

It had previously said it would take its members six months to return all citizens stranded abroad if the current cap system wasn’t relaxed.

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38 Comments

  • Mick

    says:

    Why are you even giving that suggestion air time? Completely ridiculous and unrealistic, standard labour comment from Albo.

  • Al

    says:

    Again Albo’s missing the point.

    You need the immigration facilities for the passengers.

    Commercial aircraft are a dime a dozen.

  • Paul

    says:

    Well Albo, get the states to lift their weekly quarantine limits.

  • Luke

    says:

    Capacity isn’t the issue it is the fact there is limits on the number of people returning. Why are we trying of foreign airlines to operate to and from Australia?

  • Ian

    says:

    typical alp has no idea of costs. The best way is to charter large widebody jets (300 to 400 seat) & fly them to Cairns where there are hundreds of empty or near empty hotels. Local fed member is on tv right now, pitching a great idea.

    Costs could be around AUD$1000/person.

    Hundreds of jets available.

    Eg. there are large widebody charter aircraft flying passengers from mainland USA to Hawaii many times a week. These same aircraft could continue onto Cairns or almost anywhere in Australia with a runway big enough.

    They could take Australians from mainland USA (noo restrictions on interstate flights in USA to meet charter flights) & also Hawaii to Australia & back same way.

    Would also be more viable, if anyone who wanted to depart Australia could (there should be no restrictions at all on departures), meaning the charter flights could possibly be filled both ways, rather than flying empty in one direction, which might reduce costs from AUD$1000/person to $500 or $600/person.

    Alternatively, a scheduled airline that already flies to Australia would sell the whole aircraft or a proportion of, for similar or slightly higher costs, as long as no silly restriction on numbers coming in.

  • Warwick Tainton

    says:

    This proposal needs to be called for what it is. Nonsense.
    Where is Qantas? They have aeroplanes on the ground, pilots and cabin crew on the ground, and an RPT licence which means they should be operating their schedule.
    Too hard? Then set up a charter package with them to do non stop 787 flights from LHR to Australia. (or tech stop SIN or DXB) The suggestion that Cairns should be used for quarantine due to their empty hotels makes sense. What about Gold Coast?
    Fares should be about 1.5 economy fare.
    Covid test pax -3 and -1 day before departure, masks on board, test again on arrival and quarantine.

    • Gary

      says:

      Don’t forget it is not as easy as ringing around grabbing a few pilots and cabin crew, most if not all are now no longer current on the aircraft and will need to requalify which is not an overnight process.

  • Ian

    says:

    typical alp has no idea of costs. The best way is to charter large widebody jets (300 to 400 seat) & fly them to Cairns where there are hundreds of empty or near empty hotels. Local fed member is on tv right now, pitching a great idea.

    Hundreds of jets available.

    Eg. there are large widebody charter aircraft flying passengers from mainland USA to Hawaii many times a week. These same aircraft could continue onto Cairns or almost anywhere in Australia with a runway big enough.

    They could take Australians from mainland USA (noo restrictions on interstate flights in USA to meet charter flights) & also Hawaii to Australia & back same way.

    Would also be more viable, if anyone who wanted to depart Australia could (there should be no restrictions at all on departures), meaning the charter flights could possibly be filled both ways, rather than flying empty in one direction.

  • Haven’t seen this degree of nonsense from a political leader for a very long time. If he is serious he would be pushing for the government to provide a charter programme with a full or substantial cost recovery from passengers to go into cities not currently used that could take up to 1,000 returnees. If not Qantas due to the A380’s being grounded HiFly out of Portugal have a nA380 in high capacity that could do it and has contrracted to the Government for Troop movements from the Middle East.
    The VIP fleet barely does the job it is tasked for now when it comes to range and payload let alone 20,000 people.

  • cj

    says:

    there are currently large passenger aircraft being used to carry freight only (belly cargo, but also cargo actually tied down to seats in passenger cabin).

    These could be used as early as tomorrow to bring Australians home. Hundreds of hotels in place like Cairns that are nearly empty or closed due to no customers.

    So a flight could leave USA west coast carrying up to 300 Australians, stop somewhere en route & pick up some more & they could then land in Cairns & that small number could fill 3 or 4 hotels for 2 weeks, then, very easy to get out of Cairns to Brisbane or anywhere else.

    It’s a no brainer. Everyone would love it, airlines, hotels, local tourism industry, suppliers. Don’t think about it or give the idea to some public servants who will take a month to decide, make a decision TODAY.

    BTW
    There should be zero restriction on returning Australians whatsoever. It’s unconstitutional.

  • Buddha

    says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the MRT Tankers, of which we have seven, have a troop carrying capacity equivalent to a commercial A330? Why wouldn’t these be used instead of the smaller VIP jets?

  • A simplistic solution which overlooks the very limited capacity of this fleet. And very limited numbers of RAAF crew available to fly them.

  • Nicholas

    says:

    Why publish this? It’s clear the issue is not capacity going out of or into the country. The blockage is the current quarantine beds, specifically the number of beds outside of Sydney which is doing its bit.

    Just because something is said it’s necessarily newsworthy.

    • Adam Thorn

      says:

      I totally agree! We have access to planes, that’s not the issue, it’s the caps.

      It’s newsworthy because the person that said it is one of the most significant, and powerful, people in Australia.

      Thanks for your comment,

      Adam

  • AgentGerko

    says:

    What a ridiculously politically-inspired request by Mr Albanese. Bring back all the aussies in a bunch of 14 and 30 seater jets.

  • Voltron

    says:

    So… the 20,000 people who didn’t heed the call of the Prime Minister to return to Australia back in May now seek Albo to arrange transport back to Australia using low pax volume VIP aircraft.
    Yep… sounds reasonable.

  • Shane

    says:

    Alan Joyce has stated that Qantas are in discussions with the Govt in regards to future repatriation flights. Morrison just has to give the green light and QF B787s/A330s (and stood down crews) are standing by.

    As for RAAF employing aircraft, all KC-30 tankers have cabins capable of carrying A330 pax loads, much more suitable than 14 pax in a Falcon 7x.

    I don’t understand why any International airlines are still operating to Australia, outside of Government organised repatriation flights (inbound and outbound). As they keep complaining, the current caps exclude any viable loads so why operate at a loss, unless government subsidies are propping up operations?

  • Bob

    says:

    It’s all very well for Albanese to say use RAAF aircraft but it only shows ignorance in the cost of
    of operating. Flights Especially on the 14 seat jets would be to high a the returnees would
    complain about the cost.
    What is needed is for the various states is to increase their intakes of travellers into quarantine
    The federal government should the ensure that the airlines must carry economy class passengers
    So that their cost are covered. Qantas have a revenue management section that could build flights
    to not only take passengers out of Australia to the various parts of the world Then bring Australians
    back to Australia to quarantine for the two weeks. As we are already having people returning must
    have a Clear COVIDSafe Certifications to board the aircraft
    It can be done but it needs people to organise who are experienced in both airlines operation and
    revenue management to organise the rescue flights. Those passengers still must pay at least the
    Economy fare and do their two weeks quarantine They also must be give the total cost and a repayment
    plan on their return Just don’t let unqualified public servants have anything to do with the plan and
    the problems with Victorian quarantine operations

  • Gordon Birkett

    says:

    Given the size of the number of those overseas. Perhaps better to charter a QANTAS A380 per spacing on a bus run circa the world per a schedule…..then you have the expensive self funded quarantine at then end……the party who stated this RAAF option didn’t answer that one……knee jerk comments without full package is redicuious.

  • Nev Gibson

    says:

    The RAAF also has A330MRTT and chartered A340 aircraft available.

    • Gary

      says:

      So we will cease RAAF operations for how long? KC30 and C17 aircraft are heavily tasked already in standard ADF operations.

  • Kev C

    says:

    C-17s ???

  • Steve of Clare

    says:

    Why on earth would you use the RAAF when QANTAS have aircraft and crews sitting around ready to go fly anywhere, anytime?

    • Adam Thorn

      says:

      I totally agree! There is plenty of good aircraft on the ground at Avalon Airport, for instance, that could be in the air relatively quickly. They are all being constantly maintained and are not in deep hibernation, as opposed to the aircraft in the desert. I don’t want to get political, but Labor’s comments were a little bizarre. The problem is not remotely getting the aircraft, it’s sorting quarantine capacity.

      Thanks,

      Adam

  • ken sommerville

    says:

    Truly is this the alternative Prime Minister of Australia?.What next, how about l/Leasing the Spirit of Tasmania 2/ Putting tents on HMAS Canberra and Adelaide and sending the fleet boldly out across the oceans of the world and collecting tourists. One thing you can say in these “dark times” of isolation, politicians are as always good for laugh.

  • Peter

    says:

    How about you just lift the cap on arrivals & then the commercial airlines can bring them home !

  • AlanB

    says:

    34 Sqdrn aircraft wouldn’t be appropriate but they could use the A330/KC-30A tankers to get the required numbers home.

  • Gregory Bass

    says:

    Wouldn’t the MRTT be a far better option. With up to 270 seats and international range returning Australian citizens could be much better accommodated. The only problem then is how to keep Qantas happy. Surely the answer is to increase hotel or motel rooms available and then worry about the logistics of uplifting returning Australian citizens.

  • Gary

    says:

    An RAAF A330 can carry a lot more in airline standard comfort.

  • Marum

    says:

    I can’t see what is so wrong with the idea.
    If I recall correctly, they did something similar domestically using Hercs., during the Ansett pilots strike. It seemed to work, although the old Hercs., were a bit rough. Probably would not work in this day and age. Most people seem to prefer to whinge, rather than be temporarily discomforted. Then probably sue.
    I know what I would prefer if I were stuck somewhere overseas.
    Regards….Marum.

  • Carter

    says:

    Typical [email protected]$$ idea coming from leftie labor.
    He hasn’t a clue about requirements of aircraft charter, so he should just shut**.
    These current & ex-pollies’, usual labor types, who mouth off to the media, about subjects on which they’ve NO knowledge, just show their ignorance.

    Morrison is capable enough to organise accomodation here, for returning residents’, & for QANTAS multi-LARGE aircraft to operate the charters. It has multiple Tech & Cabin crews’ to go.

  • Steve

    says:

    Is he serious??? Albo has no idea on how much even a Dassault costs per hr to run , let alone a 737! Wonder if he’s prepared to pay all costs involved in repatriating people home. Crew, fuel, landing fees, other operational costs, approvals, catering, etc , etc . Need to put your money up Albo.

  • Steve

    says:

    Is he serious??? Looks as if he has no idea on what the operational costs would be for a Dassault or 737. Wonder if he would put his money where his mouth is & cover the entire expense of returning stranded Aussies home???

  • Steve

    says:

    Is he serious??? Hope he covers the cost of operating ALL government aircraft to return stranded Aussies home. Think he failed pre school maths. He doesn’t appear to have any idea on the hrly costs of those aircraft.

  • Tony D

    says:

    Perhaps they could take the RAAF aircraft concept a bit further and offer an express service using the back seat of F/A 18Bs.
    They could top up their fuel over and back from the passenger-carrying MRTTs.

    A thought bubble from Albo to demonstrate he doesn’t know much about aviation or the RAAF.

  • Bill O'Really

    says:

    Right Carter, if you say so. FIGJAM flowing freely from Carter, right here.

  • Peter J CESNIK

    says:

    With thousands of Australians stranded in UK, Europe and USA RAAF fleet is miniscule…Just another white elephant from Labour. However, the Qantas fleet is now idle…why not use them…?

  • Ben

    says:

    Flying state aircraft has rather large diplomatic overheads in obtaining overflight clearances that Qantas et al wouldn’t have as the generally already have pre-existing rights from their commercial services.

    BARA keeps complaining that the caps are forcing 30 odd pax a flight. Yet their members haven’t proposed that instead of attempting daily flights they share the cap around a much smaller number of flights. Instead of operating 15 odd flights at 30 odd pax each, why not 5 flights at 100? Since BARA represents the vast majority of operators surely this wouldn’t be hard to coordinate? I’m sure the ACCC et al would be happy to exempt such coordination during the restrictions as it would clearly be in the public interest to operate flights at higher pax loads.

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