French presidential jet due for delivery in Autumn
By Johnny Summerton.
Nicolas Sarkozy is welcoming a newly refitted presidential aircraft later this year. It'll be bigger, more expensive and will consume more fuel than the current one, but will also fly further without refueling and carry more passengers.
According to the national daily Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui in France, the aeroplane is currently undergoing the finishing touches to its refitting before test flights scheduled for next month. Although there has as yet been no confirmation from the ministry of defence, the future owners of the aircraft, the paper says its sources maintain that the test flight has been pushed back a couple of weeks to iron out "minor technical problems" discovered during recent ground trials. The aircraft, an Airbus A330-200, is capable of making long haul flights without refueling and will replace the existing A319. The 11-year-old Airbus was formerly owned first by the now defunct Swissair and later by Air Caraïbes. Refitting of the aircraft has been no mean feat according to the paper. It reports that to meet the requirements of the French president, the 'plane has been entirely converted, a conference room designed and around 60 "VIP seats" installed, replacing the previous 324 when it was used as a commercial airline. The French president will also have his own bedroom and shower, and both he and those travelling with him will be able to surf the Net at 10,000 metres. The cabin has been reinforced fitted with a missile decoy system and an encrypted communications system has been installed to allow the president to remain in private contact with his advisors. When the announcement was made in June 2008 that a new 'plane would be ordered for the French president it received a lot of criticism in France, especially from the opposition Socialist party who maintained that the €176 million earmarked for buying and refitting the 'plane could be better used elsewhere and dubbed the project "Air Sarko One". As the British daily The Times reported the news coincided with the plans to reduce public spending. The decision was, in the words of the newspaper, seen as a "contradiction of recent efforts by Sarkozy to get away from his image as 'President Bling Bling'." Although Sarkozy was rumoured to have wanted a brand new aircraft, the decision was made to buy a second hand one and upgrade it. Le Parisien says a solution still has to be found to the problem of where the 'plane can take off and land in Paris. The A330-200 is twice as long and four times as heavy as the A319 and will no longer be able to use the military base at Villacoublay, south-west of the French capital as the runway is too short. The most likely answer, says the newspaper, will be to use the nearby international airport of Orly.