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Prime Minister’s 737-700 BBJ suffers ‘technical problems’

written by Adam Thorn | October 16, 2020
Air to Air of A36-001 Boeing 737 BBJ over Canberra.
Photo by LACW Sonja Inderwisch

Friday’s national cabinet meeting of state and territory leaders had to be postponed due to a “technical problem” with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Boeing 737-700 BBJ.

The undisclosed fault meant the PM was unable to fly from Cairns to Sydney for the meeting, and couldn’t dial in remotely because he didn’t have access to a highly secured connection required for sensitive discussion.

It was reported he was set to announce an increase in Australia’s arrival caps and further use of the NT Howard Spring’s facility.

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The RAAF 737-700 BBJ, A36-001 msn 30829, is one of two used by government ministers and operated by No. 34 Squadron from Defence Establishment Fairbairn in the ACT.

The BBJ holds a crew of six (pilot, co-pilot, and up to four crew attendants) and can carry up to 30 passengers 11,390 kilometres, enabling them to reach Hong Kong or Tokyo from Canberra. Both planes were delivered in 2002 and feature meeting room, working space and communications facilities.

The PM had been in Queensland to campaign for Liberal candidate Deb Frecklington in the state election but had to return to Sydney to virtually attend the meeting.

On Thursday, Australian Aviation reported how the federal government was planning to announce on Friday that it was increasing the capacity of the NT’s Howard Springs quarantine facility to allow more Australians stranded abroad to return home.

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The deal will allow it to hold an additional 500 travellers per fortnight and will coincide with additional commercial and charter flights from both London and India.

The news comes a month after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack urged state premiers to lift the cap on how many Australians can return home from 4,000 to 6,000.

The restrictions limiting the number of Australians who could fly 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 that the decision has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.

The plans, seemingly briefed to the ABC, would see the Howard Springs Facility, 25 kilometres south of Darwin, used to accommodate 1,000 international returnees a month.

The announcement will coincide with eight Qantas Dreamliner flights, starting next week, helping to return ex-pats alongside flights from the Defence Force.

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13 Comments

  • Peter

    says:

    Apparently there is no secure communications network on these aircraft ??

  • Charlie Roberts

    says:

    They are 18 years old. Time for some new ones.

  • Adrian P

    says:

    So when we access federal sites for a census, Covid app, and submissions to Australian Tax Office they are not that secure after all.
    Why was the Prime Minister using a federal asset to attend party political events?

  • Its about time that the RAAF replaced these two Boeing 737-700 BBJ aircraft with more modern platforms. These are now 16 years old and were provided under lease to the RAAF.

    Recently Airbus has announced a new version of the A220-200 LR aircraft fitted out as a Business Jet.

    With its range and comfort, this aircraft would perhaps be a more realistic option for the Boeing 737-700 BBJ’s replacements. Alternatively perhaps they should lease two of Alliance Airlines Emraer 190’s hat are due to arrive in Australia in November and December.

  • Pete

    says:

    The Governor General has first dibs on the RAAF VIP fleet, then the PM, then the rest.

  • Since when is the ADF going to be undertaking flights to bring expats home? (as per the final paragraph).

  • Martin

    says:

    Charlie, an 18 years old RAAF VIP fleet aircraft is probably still ‘young’, in terms of flight hours, compared to an 18 year old aircraft in an airline. You would also want to hope that the leasing arrangement on these aircraft is now quite cost effective for the Department of Defence. The Government needs to find funds for all sorts of COVID-19 economic measures at the moment (and years ahead). Acquiring new VIP aircraft just now would go down like a tonne of bricks in the electorate and I can’t see it helping the local economy. But as Peter observes, having secure comms on board would be sensible if they don’t already(!), and shouldn’t require complete fleet replacement. That said, if an aircraft has ‘Technical Problems’ what is to say the comms are available either!

  • BH

    says:

    I can’t believe that the VIP fleet hasn’t had a secure communications suite in the past.
    You would think that would be one of the basic requirements for transporting the fleets key customers i.e. PM & GG etc..

  • Gary

    says:

    Chris- this has already been covered. The BBJs are of little benefit only seating 40. The KC30s of which we have seven are not all on line so you could at most count on say 5. These 5 they are already tasked with ADF operations such as deployments, COVID and other ADF support.

  • ssmith3104

    says:

    Yes, IF a replacement was warranted, the A220-200 LR type would be an excellent choice. However, I would imagine that these two 737-700’s would have low total time and therefore be nowhere near needing replacement. However, because they are under lease and because the international leasing market for 17 y.o. 737’s is currently virtually non-existent, it should be possible for the RAAF to markedly renegotiate the existing lease either lower or for the lessor to pay for the needed secure communications equipment to be added into the plane. Think laterally and forcefully. Negotiate with the lessor like Trump would!

  • Murray Howlett

    says:

    I’m surprised that there are not any secure facilities at the RAAF Base at Cairns. Or are there?

  • Gen Angus

    says:

    There’s a RAAF Base at Cairns? Why wasn’t I told?

  • Negotiate like Trump, I remember when USAIR negotiate to save Trump Shuttle!

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