Flight ASY365, which took off from Sydney Airport on Thursday night at 9.08pm, was no ordinary flight.
ASY365 was the flight number for the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s VIP journey to London for the Queen’s funeral, which travelled from Sydney to Singapore, then Dubai, before landing in London on Friday at 4.10pm after more than 27 hours since departure.
About 4000 people logged on to FlightRadar24.com to track the flight, more than an average flight but far fewer than the 5 million who tuned in for the Queen’s final flight – the return of her coffin from Edinburgh to London last week. The flight route shows the plane took a circuitous route through the Middle East, flying over Saudi Arabia and Egypt, presumably due to security concerns. Commercial flights from the United Arab Emirates to London typically fly over Iraq or Iran.
The Royal Australian Air Force plane is a modified KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport, which in itself is a modified Airbus A330 jet.
The RAAF has six KC-30A aircraft, designed for performing refuelling operations mid-flight. The Prime Minister’s plane, registration A39-007, has been modified to provide creature comforts to the passengers on board, with room for more than 100 passengers.
The PM gets his own first class section with two lie-flat seats, and there are also 24 business-class style lie-flat seats.
Less important passengers (such as the media) are relegated to one of the 52 economy class seats at the rear of the plane (though those who’ve flown on board say they’re more comfortable than economy on commercial airlines and the food is much better).
There’s also a work area on board with 12 more lie-flat seats with desks, along with a secure conference room.
There are up to eight flight attendants on board, along with a caterer.
The plane began its life as a Qantas jet in 2008 before being refitted by Airbus’ defence division and entering service with the RAAF in 2019.
At the time, then-prime minister Scott Morrison joked that the plane would be dubbed “Shark One” – in reference to his favourite National Rugby League team, the Cronulla Sharks, and the US president’s famous aircraft, Air Force One.
The upgrade to make the plane fit for a prime minister (or governor general) cost a whopping $250 million, though it is still able to perform military duties.
Prior to the arrival of A39-007, prime ministers jetted about in a Boeing 737, with room for just 30 passengers on board. The Boeing Business Jets were introduced in 2002 but had a limited range compared with the KC-30A which required additional stops. The 737s are still used for short-haul and domestic flights.
The KC-30A means journalists covering the prime minister’s work can travel on board and arrive with him, when previously they were forced to fly separately on commercial flights – often resulting in the media arriving late (and exhausted) for major events.
The Prime Minister received permission to fly to London on board the VIP jet despite a formal request from UK officials for world leaders to use commercial flights due to a lack of capacity for private jets at London’s Heathrow airport. Those travelling on private flights were asked to land at smaller airports. The Prime Minister’s flight landed at Stansted Airport, about 65 kilometres north-east of central London.
It was also requested that only one representative of each country attend the Queen’s funeral, but the rule did not apply to Commonwealth countries.
Among the guests who travelled on board are Governor-General David Hurley, and nine “everyday Australians” including tennis legend and Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott, Young Australian of the Year Dr Trudy Lin and Senior Australian of the Year Valmai Dempsey. A 10 invited guest, horse trainer Chris Waller, had to pull out of the trip after a close family member contracted COVID-19
Racing identities Gai and Robbie Waterhouse, who were invited due to their connection to the Queen’s horses, were unable to secure commercial flights so were also invited to join the flight.
The Prime Minister will return to Australia on board A39-007 after formalities for the Queen’s funeral conclude, in time for Thursday’s National Day of Mourning.
See also: The private jet Scott Morrison flew to Sydney on during lockdown
See also: From Royal yachts to private jumbo jets: How the Queen travelled to Australia