PM set to get long-range VIP aircraft

Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

Australian prime ministers could be jetting overseas aboard the same type of RAAF aircraft now refuelling bombers over Iraq and Syria.

Defence department secretary Dennis Richardson says a defence force structure review identified the need for two more Airbus KC-30A tankers, with the government deciding that one would be configured for VIP travel.

That would include first and business class sections, conference facilities, a secure communications capability and space down the back for the accompanying media pack.

The government's existing VIP fleet comprises two 737 Boeing Business Jets and three smaller Bombardier Challenger aircraft.

Mr Richardson said the BBJ aircraft were utterly inadequate for prime ministerial travel overseas.

"The purpose is to enable future prime ministers to be able to work effectively when they are travelling abroad and that means putting in aircraft classified and unclassified communication suites and that's a big part of the cost," he told a Senate estimates committee hearing.

The additional cost is about $150 million, with delivery of the aircraft expected in 2019.

It will feature first class seating for two, business class seating for 24, and economy seating for 54 with a total of 107 seats.

Like the long-retired Boeing 707 VIP aircraft, the new VIP aircraft will retain a full capability for in-flight refuelling of RAAF and other combat aircraft.

Defence will be able to plan ahead for prime ministerial travel but operational requirements will take priority if there's any clash .

Mr Richardson said he first proposed this to Labor prime minister Julia Gillard in 2013 who agreed, subject to discussions with then opposition leader Tony Abbott.

In government, he too agreed, as did Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. All wanted to know why they couldn't just charter aircraft as needed and stipulated that opposition leaders also be consulted.

Mr Richardson said he wasn't aware if Lucy Turnbull or other prime ministerial partners had also been consulted.

The RAAF's six KC-30A aircraft were all converted from newly built Airbus A330-200 aircraft, and, as well as air-to-air refuelling, each can also carry more than 250 troops.

Defence is acquiring the two additional aircraft from Qantas, with the tanker conversion to be performed in Spain.