The evolution of the Royal Australian Air Force’s ‘VIP fleet’

12 November 2020

PDF version [1.4MB]

Dr Nathan Church
Politics and Public Administration Section


Parliamentarians’ initial experiences of air travel
Origins of the VIP fleet
The 1950s and new aircraft
Acquisitions in the 1960s
The 1970s and the Boeing 707
Falcon 900 aircraft
Privatisation debates
Boeing Business Jets and Challenger aircraft
A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport Aircraft
Dassault Falcon 7X
Non-RAAF VIP flights
Protocols and reporting of VIP flights


All links in this paper were valid as at November 2020.


The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fleet of special purpose aircraft (colloquially known as the ‘VIP fleet’) has provided air travel to parliamentarians, official dignitaries and senior military officers for more than 75 years. It has also evolved significantly throughout this time, due to substantial advances in technology, as well as increasing requirements from both its passengers and the RAAF. From its operation as a specific RAAF squadron (No. 34) within the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group, the VIP fleet forms part of the RAAF’s suite of transport capabilities. However, given the high-profile nature of its passengers, the fleet has also been the subject of enduring political discussion and media interest. This paper examines the circumstances which led to its establishment and chronicles its subsequent journey through various acquisitions and the responses to them.

Parliamentarians’ initial experiences of air travel

[Senator Sir Josiah Symon]: I would point out to my honourable friend, Senator Dawson, that every member of this Chamber exceedingly regrets that no arrangement can be made to afford equal facilities to senators from Queensland and Western Australia to return home each week.

[Senator Gregor McGregor]: Cannot the honourable member give a bonus for a flying machine?

[Senator Sir Josiah Symon]: My honourable friend has an inventive genius, and if he would apply that genius to the invention of a flying machine, we should be prepared to encourage him, so as to enable honourable members to return to their homes at the end of the sitting week.

Senate Hansard, 5 June 1901.[1]

Eight years after the above statements were made in federal parliament, the federal government embarked on its advocacy of air travel, through the Department of Defence. On 8 September 1909, the Department offered a £5,000 prize ‘to the Inventor or Designer of the Flying Machine which is adjudged by the Minister for Defence to be … [subject to certain conditions] the best and most suitable for military purposes’.[2] Despite receiving 45 entries, none contained an actual machine for trial and the competition accordingly lapsed.[3] Despite this initial setback, in January 1911 the Minister for Defence, George Pearce, proposed the establishment of a military aviation corps.[4] This was officially enacted in October 1912 through Military Order 570, following the Defence Department’s advertisement for ‘two competent mechanists and aviators’.[5]

On 3 January 1912 Postmaster-General Charles Frazer became the first Australian parliamentarian to fly in an aircraft, at the opening of a Penrith aviation school. Following the 10-minute flight, which covered five miles and reached an altitude of 300 feet (approximately 90 metres), Frazer said of the event:

It is the best experience I have ever had. I never felt the least nervousness, and the panoramic views were superb. The heavy mists rising over the mountains was a sight never to be forgotten. Mr. Hart handled the machine skilfully, and I would have no hesitation in making another flight with the young aviator.[6]

More than a decade later in October 1924, Stanley Bruce became the first Australian prime minister to use air travel for official business when he travelled approximately 170 km on a specially chartered Qantas De Havilland (DH) 50 aircraft from Winton to Longreach. In media reporting of the trip, Bruce noted that as the first prime minister to visit Longreach, he could ‘become better acquainted with the problems the people in the far central west were faced with’.[7] Later, in November 1926, acting prime minister Earle Page embarked on a six-day flying tour of regional Victoria and New South Wales.[8] In July 1928 Stanley Bruce again took a chartered DH50 aircraft from Perth to Geraldton in Western Australia.[9]

Qantas De Havilland DH50

Qantas De Havilland DH50 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Governor-General, Lord Stonehaven, also travelled by a Defence-operated aeroplane in December 1925 as part of his civic engagements. As an enthusiastic advocate for air travel, he declared:

I regard aeroplanes primarily … as great time-savers. How else could I have fulfilled an engagement at Jervis Bay on Wednesday and another in Geelong on Thursday. Whenever the opportunity offers I intend to fly to fulfil distant engagements if that is the easier way. It is entirely one of convenience. It is a really practical way of getting about… I would like to help dissipate the idea that flying is dangerous. Of course, everything from one point of view is hazardous. No one knows each day whether he will reach home at night, but flying is no more dangerous than other means of transport. I regard it as a necessity which will more and more appeal to the public.[10]

Newspaper reporting in February 1926 erroneously claimed that a DH50 aircraft ordered by the RAAF the year prior was ‘built for the Governor-General (Lord Stonehaven) for flights in out-back Australia’.[11] In reality, the aircraft operated as a survey and communications aircraft.[12]

From the late 1930s, flights for official business became commonplace for senior parliamentarians, with several Cabinet ministers using aeroplanes for long distance travel.[13] For example, during the 1937 election campaign Prime Minister Joseph Lyons travelled to three states in one day, reported to be a record in ministerial air travel.[14] The Treasurer, Richard Casey, also became the first Cabinet minister to become a qualified pilot in January 1938, enabling him to fly himself from Melbourne to Canberra in a matter of hours.[15] The increased use of air travel also led to discussion in parliament regarding how to incorporate air travel into the parliamentarians’ existing travel allowances, provided through the ‘gold pass’ program.[16]

In 1938 the federal government decided to procure a Percival Q6 aircraft for the Department of Civil Aviation, for testing radio installations and equipment.[17] However, this acquisition was falsely reported as being for predominantly ministerial travel, as a cheaper alternative to flying commercially or on Defence aircraft.[18] The pervasiveness of this misconception led the Minister for Civil Aviation, James Fairbairn, to assert in parliament:

[The Percival aircraft] is intended primarily to be used for testing and checking beacons and direction-finding installations… Apart from that it will be used in transporting the Air Accidents Investigation Committee to the scene of any accidents that may occur, and also for the transport of officers of the Civil Aviation Department on inspections of aerodromes and work of that sort. The aircraft was not purchased for the transport of Ministers [emphasis added].[19]

Percival Q6 Petrel

Percival Q6 Petrel (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Aircraft accidents were a present danger given air travel’s increasing use, with parliamentarians not immune to such occurrences. On 11 June 1936 the former prime minister and Minister for Health, Billy Hughes, suffered a broken collarbone when the commercial aircraft he was travelling on crashed at Beaudesert, Queensland.[20] Later, on 13 August 1940, a recently acquired Lockheed Hudson operated by the RAAF’s No. 2 Squadron crashed while descending into Canberra, resulting in 10 fatalities—including three senior federal government ministers.[21] Two other parliamentarians had been invited on the flight, but had already booked alternative transport to Canberra via train.[22] Following this incident, Cabinet reportedly determined that ministers should not fly together, but this policy was subsequently altered to allow for ministers to travel in pairs on aircraft.[23] However, even this change was quickly regarded as an inconvenient imposition upon the business of government and was not rigidly followed.[24]

Lockheed Hudson

Lockheed Hudson (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Origins of the VIP fleet

The onset of the Second World War created new logistical challenges for the federal government, not least the geographic divide between Canberra as the seat of parliament and the Melbourne-based Defence Department.[25] Accordingly, on 2 May 1940 the Minister for Air, James Fairbairn, formally established a VIP flight, as part of the RAAF’s No. 8 Squadron, for Cabinet members to travel between Canberra and Melbourne. The VIP flight transferred to No. 2 Squadron when No. 8 Squadron moved its operations to Singapore.[26]

Biographers of Sir Thomas Blamey, the Australian Commander-in-Chief during the war, have also recorded his private use of a RAAF Hudson aircraft in 1942, given Blamey’s demanding travel schedule and the difficulties this posed aligning with civilian airlines.[27] Another reported catalyst for Blamey acquiring the Hudson was his skirmish with a commercial airline steward in August 1942 regarding his seat allocation, which resulted in the steward warning Blamey that ‘he might command an army, but she commanded that plane’.[28]

Blamey’s Hudson aircraft was piloted by Squadron Leader William Upjohn, of the RAAF’s No. 1 Communication Unit based at Essendon airbase in Victoria. In September 1944 Upjohn was awarded the Air Force Cross, with the citation specifically mentioning his service as pilot to the acting prime minister, Cabinet ministers and many high ranking navy, army and air force officials. The citation further noted Upjohn’s role as personal pilot to the Chief of Air Staff over the preceding six months.[29]

From September 1944 the No. 1 Communication Unit provided VIP flights to various military and government officials, including the prime minister, ministers across the defence portfolios, and the Service Chiefs. The Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal George Jones, and his Deputy Chief most frequently used these flights, which continued operating until the unit was disbanded on 22 July 1948.[30]

In addition, when the Duke of Gloucester was sworn in as Governor-General in January 1945 it was announced that he would also use a VIP fleet of three aircraft provided by the British Air Ministry—an Avro Anson, Percival Proctor and Avro York aircraft. The Avro York, named the Endeavour, was reported in February 1945 as being a ‘luxury apartment with wings’.[31] However, Government House rejected such a depiction in a media statement the following month, asserting that the aircraft ‘is strictly utilitarian and is in no sense a luxury airliner’.[32]

Avro York Avro Anson Percival Proctor
Avro York (source: Wikimedia Commons) Avro Anson (source: Wikimedia Commons) Percival Proctor (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Governor-General’s Flight was formally established on 4 April 1945 and based at RAAF Station Fairbairn in Canberra.[33] Like the aircraft, the Flight’s hangar accommodation also proved to be contentious, with Prime Minister Curtin intervening directly to limit the scale of the private waiting area’s amenities proposed by the Department of Air.[34] This was particularly relevant given Curtin’s statement the previous December:

I have received advice that his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, being cognisant of the prevailing conditions arising out of the war, would deprecate any unnecessary expense being incurred by the Commonwealth Government in connection with his forthcoming term of office as Governor-General. His Royal Highness has intimated that he does not desire for the Duchess and himself any facilities in excess of those made available to his predecessors.[35]

Just prior to the conclusion of the Duke’s term as Governor-General, he remarked at a parliamentary dinner in Canberra on 5 December 1946:

We have travelled great distances and undertaken journeys which I am glad to see are now becoming commonplace in this land of vast areas. Our aircraft — thanks to an exceedingly efficient Captain and Crew of the Royal Australian Air Force who have formed my Flight — has enabled us to visit many remote places in the outback where staunch men and women are doing work which is too little known in the Cities of the Commonwealth.[36]

After the war, the RAAF’s structure was reduced and realigned, with ensuing implications for the VIP fleet. The Avro York, which accompanied the Duke of Gloucester, was returned to the British Royal Air Force at the end of his service in Australia. The Governor-General’s Flight itself was formally disbanded on 10 July 1947, with responsibility for VIP flights reverting solely to the No. 1 Communication Unit, which operated Douglas Dakota, Avro Anson, and Bristol Beaufort aircraft.[37]

Bristol Beaufort Douglas Dakota
Bristol Beaufort (source: Wikimedia Commons) Douglas Dakota (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Following No. 1 Communication Unit’s disbanding in 1948, 36 Squadron was given provisional responsibility for VIP flights in August of that year.[38] However, with a significant proportion of this squadron subsequently deployed to Europe in support of the Berlin Airlift, VIP flights were absorbed by 38 Squadron, which commenced VIP flights in September 1948 from the airbase at Schofields, NSW.[39] VIP flights reverted to 36 Squadron, based at Richmond airbase, in June 1950 before returning to Canberra in March 1956 when the VIP fleet transferred to 34 (VIP) Flight.[40] Renamed 34 (Special Transport) Squadron in July 1959, the VIP fleet eventually settled as 34 Squadron in June 1963, which is its current designation, as part of the RAAF Air Lift Group’s 84 Wing.[41]

The 1950s and new aircraft

In addition to the reorganisation described in the preceding paragraph, the post-war period also led to the purchase of new aircraft. In 1956, the federal government purchased two Convair 440 aircraft from the United States Air Force for the RAAF’s VIP transport capability. The Australian ambassador to the US, Sir Percy Spender, was reportedly heavily involved in negotiations.[42] The Minister for Air, Athol Townley, initially claimed each aircraft would be procured at a below market cost of approximately US$760,000, with funding allocated from the Department of Air 1955–56 budget.[43] However, the Government later confirmed the total outlay to be slightly less than $2.2 million, including ‘support’ costs.[44] Members of the Opposition chastised the Government for this acquisition, indicating that purchasing arguably obsolete piston engine aircraft from the US (compared to the more modern jet engine) was ‘an outrageous extravagance’ and a ‘distinct slight to British aviation’.[45] However, Minister Townley justified the purchase by noting:

Until this year, the flight was equipped with Douglas C47 Dakota aircraft, which have been in service with the Royal Australian Air Force for fifteen years: this type is obsolescent for such work, particularly as it is unpressurized, has a very limited range and is relatively slow. These factors led to the decision last year to replace the Dakotas with a more modern passenger aircraft type as soon as possible. The Convair 440’s as delivered are equipped with seats, desks, &c., and this configuration could be used as “flying schoolrooms” or executive transports. The design, however, makes it possible to convert the aircraft for a variety of uses. For example, it may be equipped as a flying hospital to carry 34 stretcher cases with attendants; it may be used to transport up to 60 troops, for the conveyance of air freight, and a variety of other service duties. The operational capabilities of the Convair 440 as compared with those of the Dakota are ample justification for their selection.[46]

Convair 440

Convair 440 (source: Australian War Memorial)

Townley further indicated that the British-made Vickers Viscount was unsuitable, given the substantial waiting period from order to acquisition due to high volumes of commercial orders.[47] The two Convair aircraft were formally delivered to Fairbairn airbase on 16 May 1956.[48] These aircraft flew 104 passenger flights in their first 12 months of operation, of which 79 were VIP flights and the remaining 25 transported service personnel.[49] RAAF personnel carried out on-base routine operational maintenance for the Convair aircraft, with major servicing provided by private industry.[50]

In reporting the Duke of Edinburgh’s use of the Convair while in Australia for the 1956 Olympic Games, the Melbourne Argus noted:

… [the aircraft] is comfortably, but modestly appointed in royal blue, grey and white upholstery. The rear section has two divans, which can be converted into beds, and a writing desk with a mahogany finish. The Convair has been fitted to accommodate 23 passengers compared with the normal 44 carried by commercial types.[51]

Similar media reporting further highlighted that ‘a stainless steel galley near the entrance is fitted with modern conveniences … [while] the walnut veneer tables are specially designed so that articles will not be upset’.[52] In addition to their VIP duties, the Convair aircraft also transported journalists (who were charged commercial economy rates) during Prime Minister Harold Holt’s tour of Asia in March–April 1967.[53]

Acquisitions in the 1960s

On 14 November 1962 Cabinet committed to investigating the upgrading of the VIP fleet, with Prime Minister Robert Menzies appointing a committee of ministers for this task, including input from the Minister for Air, David Fairbairn.[54] During its deliberations, the Cabinet committee questioned whether the VIP fleet could be more logistically or economically feasible shared between the RAAF and Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), and media reporting at the time even raised the possibility of the VIP fleet relocating to the DCA in its entirety, despite concerns from senior RAAF officials.[55]

The Cabinet committee further resolved:

… there is a need not only for replacing the present VIP Flight, but also for a more ready availability of VIP aircraft to assist Ministers in meeting commitments throughout Australia, particularly in distant places. This could only be achieved by making more aircraft available for VIP work.[56]

However, Minister Fairbairn contended in response:

There is no shortage of [VIP] aircraft at this time. The two Convair Metropolitan aircraft and the Dakotas are available seven days a week, and a request is rarely refused on the grounds of aircraft availability. As for weekends, the demand is usually lower than at other times … It seems to me unnecessary, therefore, to consider at this stage any addition to our small VIP fleet.[57]

The first stage of the fleet upgrade commenced in 1963 when Cabinet provisionally authorised the replacement of the VIP fleet’s Dakota aircraft with three De Havilland 125s, based on Minister Fairbairn’s recommendation.[58] A significant catalyst for this decision was the Chief of the Air Staff’s assessment that ‘there is a degree of risk in the operation of these [Dakota] aircraft for the carriage of VIPs which should not be accepted’.[59]

However, by January 1964 Fairbairn was advocating the Dassault Mystere 20 as the Dakota replacement, on account of its longer range and improved seating capacity. These benefits came at a price—a significant cost premium and an eight-month delay compared to the DH125—but Cabinet nevertheless supported the minister’s recommendation, albeit for only two Mystere aircraft.[60]

This was further altered two months later when Cabinet determined that two Viscount aircraft should be acquired, with previous intentions to source Mystere aircraft put on hold.[61] Media speculation from July 1964 noted that Viscounts currently operated by Australian domestic carriers could be acquired following their impending replacement by Boeing 727s; however, these were not of an ‘executive type’.[62] Ultimately, Defence procured two Viscount aircraft from the US-based Union Carbide Corporation and Iran National Airlines, respectively, with both aircraft configured to transport 20 passengers.[63] The former Union Carbide Corporation Viscount was manufactured in 1960 and had flown approximately 2,000 hours by May 1964, while the other Viscount was manufactured in 1961 and had flown approximately 1,500 hours by this time.[64] The final transfers concluded on 30 June 1966, with the federal government paying just over $2.5 million for the two aircraft and associated equipment.[65]

Vickers Viscount

Vickers Viscount (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The acquisition program continued into 1965, when Cabinet debated the merits of purchasing either the British Aircraft Corporation BAC 1–11 or Douglas DC9 to replace the VIP fleet’s Convair aircraft. Australian domestic civilian airlines had already procured the DC9, which would facilitate more convenient local maintenance.[66] However, the BAC 1–11 was reportedly cheaper and had a more mature design than the DC9.[67] It also had a longer range, faster cruising speed and more economical operating costs.[68] Acquiring the BAC 1–11 would further generate substantial goodwill between Australia and Britain, where the BAC 1–11 was manufactured.[69] In April 1965 Jim Killen (a future Minister for Defence in the Fraser Government) lamented the selection of the DC9 over the BAC 1–11 by Australian commercial airlines Ansett and Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), declaring:

The British aircraft industry today is sick. If the Australian order for new aircraft is to be given on this occasion to the Douglas Aircraft Co. and not to the British Aircraft Corporation, an almost irreparable blow will be delivered to the British aircraft industry. People may say: “you are dealing with matters of sentiment. You are not dealing with matters of hard business.” So be it … If the Commonwealth of Nations and the Western world lose the skills that have been acquired by the British aircraft industry over a long period, in my judgement the Commonwealth of Nations will have been dealt a tremendous blow.[70]

Ultimately, the Minister for Air, Peter Howson, recommended the BAC 1–11, with the proviso that sufficient spare engines could be obtained in Australia.[71] However, media reporting at the time criticised the increased costs for the BAC 1–11’s spares and maintenance, on account of it being a relatively rare aircraft type in Australia.[72]

BAC 1-11

BAC 1-11 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

In terms of aircraft suitable for limited airfields, Minister Howson proposed either the Hawker Siddeley (HS) 748 or the Grumman Gulfstream. The minister’s preference was for the HS 748, given its worldwide use (including within the Queen’s Flight in the UK) and the RAAF’s planned acquisition of eight other HS 748s as navigation training aircraft, which would create efficiencies in maintenance. Despite its marginally better speed and range, the Gulfstream was omitted largely because its manufacturer was soon to cease production.[73]

On 24 November 1965 these discussions led to Cabinet formally authorising the planned new acquisitions to 34 Squadron’s VIP fleet. This incorporated acquiring three Mystere 20 and two HS 748 aircraft to replace five Dakota aircraft, as well as ordering two BAC 1–11 aircraft as replacements for the two Convair 440 Metropolitan aircraft.[74] Minister Howson tabled a statement regarding the potential procurements in Parliament a week later.[75]

HS 748 Mystere 20
HS 748 (source: David Pryde [GFDL 1.2
Wikimedia Commons
Mystere 20 (source: Wikimedia Commons

The first BAC 1–11 aircraft was delivered to 34 Squadron in Canberra on 18 January 1968, with the second aircraft arriving the following month on 14 February.[76] Equipped for 30 passengers, the aircraft contained three lounges (two in VIP configuration) and two galleys; however, it was reported to be ‘not lavish … compared with the normal configuration of executive 1–11s’. With a total range of 2,300 miles, it arrived from Darwin in just over four hours flying time.[77] The
BAC 1–11’s larger size allowed up to 16 journalists for the first time to accompany the prime minister and leader of the opposition throughout their respective campaigns during the 1969 election. The journalists paid commercial rates, with their flight accommodation being less than VIP standard, but better than regular ‘tourist-class’.[78] Additionally, the two HS 748 aircraft provided a unique operational capability for short field and unsealed runways, compared to the Mystere and BAC 1–11 aircraft.[79] The total cost for the seven replacement aircraft was just over $18 million at 30 June 1970; however, this did not include some additional spares, fit-out and training costs.[80] The estimated total cost incorporating all aspects was $21.6 million.[81] This estimate covered:

  • two HS 748 aircraft at $4.4 million
  • three Dassault Mystere 20 aircraft at $6 million and
  • two BAC 1–11 aircraft at $11.2 million.[82]

In January 1968 the upgraded VIP fleet was available for inspection by the press. The Canberra Times published the following account:

The aircraft, of No 34 (VIP) Squadron, RAAF, are the BAC One-Eleven and Mystere jets, the HS-748 and Viscount turbo-props, and the piston-engined Convair Metropolitan. The flagship is the BAC One-Eleven which arrived from England last week. A second will arrive next month. The One-Eleven is a miniature version of President Johnson’s 707s. Twin VIP lounges and senior executive seating occupy the forward compartments and general staff are accommodated at the rear. The RAAF’s One-Eleven is comfortable, but not nearly as lavish as the executive machine demonstrated throughout Australia in 1966 by the manufacturers. Furnished in the squadron’s interior colour scheme of brown and gold, it has three separate VIP compartments—a main office for four, sleeping accommodation for two and seating in an ante-compartment for four senior advisers. There is staff seating for 16 ...

Two galleys, a refrigerator and a cocktail bar cater for passengers, while the VIPs have work desks, filing cabinets and a multi-channel radio set for music and news reception. The main VIP lounge has an altimeter, an air speed indicator and an outside temperature gauge, ‘It saves him having to ring the pilot up to find out, and these things they always seem to want to know’, an RAAF spokesman said. ‘It’s a flying office’.

But if the One-Eleven is a flying office, the sleek, 56-foot-long Mystere jets are flying sports cars. Twin 4,200lb thrust General Electric jets push the aircraft more than 530mph, compared with 550mph from the 11,000lb thrust of the Rolls-Royce Speys driving the One-Eleven. Spartan inside—there are only eight seats, four of them facing the rear—the Mystere can climb to 20,000ft in only three minutes. Work tables can be installed between the pair of seats ...

The workhorses of the fleet are the two HS-748 turbo-props, which can be adapted to convey eight passengers in full VIP comfort or up to 40 not so VIPs. They have a top speed of 326 mph and a range of 2,000 miles. But, despite the sleek comfort and speed of the new machines, all less than one year old, the most luxurious aircraft in the squadron are still the turbo-prop Vickers Viscounts, each bought second-hand in 1964. One was owned by the Shah of Iran and the other by the Union Carbide Corporation of the USA.

The former Imperial aircraft was the one inspected yesterday. About as fast as the HS-748s, it is the favourite aircraft of the Governor-General, Lord Casey, and it was also preferred by the late Prime Minister, Mr Holt. The re-equipment programme, which included the One-Elevens, Mysteres and HS-748s, cost $21.6 million, more than double the estimated price when the aircraft were first ordered in 1965. Most of the increase was caused by having to buy maintenance equipment and spare parts for the One-Elevens and the Mysteres.[83]

The RAAF’s 34 Squadron retired the last five VIP Douglas Dakotas in August 1967 and subsequently transferred them to the RAAF training school in Victoria.[84] The Department of Supply also advertised the VIP Convair aircraft for sale, stipulating that the purchaser either hold an airline license or guarantee that the aircraft would be exported or broken up for parts.[85] The Convair aircraft were eventually sold in 1968.[86] The following year, 34 Squadron’s two Viscount aircraft were determined to be surplus to requirements and disposed of through the Department of Supply, earning $173,000 from the sale.[87]

The 1970s and the Boeing 707

In early April 1971 the Chief of the Air Staff posited the possibility of replacing the RAAF’s Hercules C130A transport aircraft with a new transport aircraft that incorporated an air-to-air refuelling capability.[88] Boeing 707 aircraft had been suggested in the media for such a role more than two years prior, while the Minister for Air stated in April 1970 his Department’s preference for the Boeing 707 as a possible tanker.[89]

Boeing 707

Boeing 707 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The potential for a Boeing 707 to join the RAAF’s VIP fleet emerged early in 1973, when one of the two engines on the VIP BAC 1–11 transporting Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to New Zealand failed mid-flight.[90] It was subsequently reported that, in the interests of safety, any future overseas flights by the prime minister would be undertaken by either chartering a Boeing 707 or by the RAAF acquiring one for its own VIP fleet.[91]

Media reporting in March 1974 indicated that the federal government had abandoned plans to procure Boeing 707 aircraft for the RAAF’s VIP fleet, as its limited use would not justify the additional expense.[92] However, later that year Lionel Murphy (representing the prime minister in the Senate) declared the Defence Department’s continued interest in the aircraft and contended that the Boeing 707 ‘is well suited for the long range transportation of freight and men as well as for VIP use’.[93]

In March 1978 the federal government renewed its plans to acquire a new long-range VIP fleet capability, with the respective ministers for Defence and Transport considering either Boeing’s 707 or 727 aircraft. Both aircraft had existing maintenance infrastructure in Australia; however, the 727 was eventually selected as the preferred option, as it could travel to more Australian airports than the 707.[94] The Government had also received advice in April 1978 from an interdepartmental committee, which concluded:

A proper standard of security, and the preferred course, is to fly overseas by RAAF aircraft taking no other passengers and cargo and using where practicable, the security of military airfields. [However] the existing Defence Force aircraft assets were specifically designed for VIP travel within Australia and are unsuitable for travel overseas because of limited range … and limited seating/luggage capacity.[95]

For its part, the Department of Finance asserted that the approximate $16 million cost of the two 727 aircraft ‘would aggravate the already very serious problem of achieving appropriate expenditure restraint in 1978–79 and beyond’.[96] Despite this, and other reported reservations from the RAAF, on 4 May 1978 the Minister for Defence, Jim Killen, announced the federal government’s decision to acquire two Boeing 727 aircraft to replace the two BAC 1–11 aircraft currently operating within the RAAF’s 34 Squadron.[97] In justifying this decision, the minister noted the increased engine and internal capacity would allow for extended range and more passengers. The heightened threat of terrorism after the Sydney Hilton Hotel bombing in February 1978 during a meeting of regional Commonwealth heads of state was a further rationale for maintaining the VIP fleet.[98]

In directly addressing the requirement for secure travel, Minister Killen acknowledged:

The Government is concerned that the means of air travel available to national leaders and, from time to time, to visiting dignitaries and groups of ministers, fail to provide protection against terrorist activity or other threats against security. Where commercial flights are used this risk extends to all passengers. An assessment of aircraft security considerations has been undertaken. This indicates that the security risk in travel by foreign owned commercially scheduled aircraft or by privately owned chartered aircraft, whether Australian owned or foreign owned, is unacceptably high … In a country so dependent on air travel, internally and externally, the government recognises that the use of special transport aircraft owned and operated by the defence force offers a positive advantage in isolating from normal commercial traffic what could at any time be attractive targets for terrorist activity.[99]

The federal government’s Protective Security Review, published the following year, further endorsed this position and outlined the security implications for VIP transport across RAAF, Department of Transport and commercial aircraft.[100]

In response to the proposed VIP fleet acquisitions, the Opposition vociferously objected to the overarching cost, given the prevailing austere economic climate. It also queried the selection of Boeing 727s, as opposed to the 707s, which had a longer range and could be more easily procured second-hand.[101] In June 1978, the Minister for Defence revealed that the estimated cost of two second-hand Boeing 727 aircraft was approximately $18 million, inclusive of spare parts, back-up facilities and personnel training. It was further indicated that these aircraft had a maximum seating capacity of 129 passengers.[102] In October 1978 three companies had reportedly been identified as having suitable 727 aircraft available, but these proved ultimately unsuitable, leading the Government to again consider the Boeing 707 aircraft.[103]

On 12 December 1978 Cabinet approved the acquisition of two Boeing 707 aircraft from Qantas, which had a larger range, payload and seating capacity than the 727. The fact that the 707 could provide an enhanced troop, freight and possible aerial-refuelling capability was a key driver for Cabinet’s changed preference, especially as it could reduce the RAAF’s reliance on commercial charter flights currently used between Australia and RAAF Base Butterworth in Malaysia.[104]

Announcing this decision the following day via media release, the Minister for Defence returned to the theme of national security, stating:

In the light of the strength of security advice the Government believes the Prime Minister could not indefinitely continue to put other airline passengers at risk while travelling overseas on Government business. The Government also feels it would be acting negligently and irresponsibly to ignore the strength of this security advice. The Government has decided, therefore, to buy two Boeing 707 aircraft for special transport purposes. The weight of security advice left the Government no alternative.[105]

The federal government Information Unit and Minister for Administrative Services, John McLeay, issued subsequent statements further emphasising these points, with the latter declaring:

In view of the increased safety for air travellers, improved travelling efficiency for the Government, the capacity for the RAAF to move its personnel without chartering, the added assistance for civil emergencies and the substantial cash savings to the taxpayer, the decision to buy both aircraft when still relatively young in flying hours for $14.5 million must be one of the best yet taken by the federal Government.[106]

In seeking to mitigate potential criticism, the federal government provided further context to the parliament, stating that ‘although the decision to purchase Boeing 707 aircraft primarily satisfies the need for security on intercontinental VIP flights, the actual usage of the aircraft in the VIP role will be small and the main usage will be on normal RAAF work’.[107] The Government also contended that only 20 per cent of the 707 aircraft’s role would be for VIP flights, and that using these aircraft to transfer personnel to and from Butterworth would save Defence approximately $800,000 a year compared to the previous chartering arrangements.[108] The first Boeing 707 aircraft was delivered in early 1979. The first operational flight in April 1979 transported 115 RAAF personnel from Sydney to Penang, Malaysia, located near RAAF Base Butterworth.[109]

Although the VIP Boeing 707s could be comfortably operated from RAAF Base Richmond, their use at Canberra’s RAAF Base Fairbairn was problematic, given they exceeded aircraft weight restrictions imposed there.[110] As a result, the federal government announced upgrades to the Canberra airport runway in January 1979, with a Defence spokesperson noting that this had been planned since 1976 and was unrelated to the VIP fleet’s new Boeing 707s.[111]

The Government paid for these aircraft through an advance to the Minister for Finance, a contingency where ‘there is an urgent need for expenditure that is either not provided for or has been insufficiently provided for in the existing appropriations of the agency’.[112] The legitimacy of this was questioned in a subsequent Senate Standing Committee report and heavily criticised by the federal Opposition.[113] However the Minister for Finance, Eric Robinson, defended this decision by asserting that as Qantas required a settlement of just over $10.2 million by 30 May 1979, this was not foreseen at the time of the previous federal budget when the Government had no firm proposals for such an acquisition.[114] This $10.2 million was transferred to defence outlay within the 1979–80 Budget, with a total reported acquisition cost of $14.3 million.[115]

During the opening address of the 1980 election campaign the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Hayden, declared that ‘a national Labor Government will sell [the two 707 aircraft] as soon as possible, and put the money to better use for the advantage of the Australian people’.[116] However, reporting from earlier that year indicated that the RAAF was already seeking additional 707 aircraft to further augment their troop transport and refuelling capabilities.[117] The Minister for Defence, Ian Sinclair, formally announced the acquisition of two further Boeing 707s in an October 1982 media release, with the new aircraft arriving in Australia in June 1983.[118]

Upon the election of the Hawke Government in 1983, the new Minister for Defence, Gordon Scholes, categorically asserted in parliament:

The two additional aircraft will be utilised for defence requirements both as transport aircraft and, following conversion, as an addition to the present 707 aircraft for aerial refuelling. There is no role or requirement for additional aircraft of that type for VIP use, and certainly there would be no justification for the expenditure of Defence Force or Government funds to purchase aircraft for that purpose [emphasis added].[119]

In August 1986 the Minister for Defence, Kim Beazley, announced that the air-to-air refuelling conversion for the four 707s would commence in November 1988 and be complete by July 1990.[120] In addition, Beazley stated in December 1987 that a further two 707 aircraft would be acquired to bring the total fleet of 707s to six aircraft.[121] A Cabinet minute advocating this procurement noted:

A fleet of six B707 aircraft would provide the [Australian Defence Force] ADF with a more flexible strategic and tactical transport force giving more assurance that in contingency situations, an adequate level of RAAF aircraft would be available for airlift purposes while retaining a capacity to provide dedicated aircraft for tanker support tasks ... The commitments in prospect during the 1988 Bi-centennial Year can be expected to exceed the combined capacity of the existing B707 fleet and No 34 Squadron, especially as it seems unlikely that re-equipment of the Special Purpose fleet could be achieved until late 1988. In addition, availability of the existing B707 fleet will be reduced until 1991 during the conversion to the tanker transport role.[122]

However, the same minute recorded that the departments of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance, and the Treasury were all unconvinced of this justification for further spending.[123]

Falcon 900 aircraft

To complement the 707’s long-range capability, the Department of Defence issued a media release on 5 September 1986 announcing a proposed leasing program regarding the acquisition and maintenance of the remaining VIP fleet. The Department further acknowledged that ‘fleet rationalisation and the transfer of most of the VIP aircraft maintenance to civil industry might offer significant savings in RAAF manpower and infrastructure costs’.[124] The potential for leasing VIP aircraft, as opposed to an outright purchase, had reportedly been discussed within the federal government as early as 1984.[125]

In his Cabinet submission requesting new VIP fleet acquisitions, the Minister for Defence, Kim Beazley, contended that leasing was a preferable option, given the respective technical and cost limitations of either upgrading the current fleet or replacing it via direct purchases.[126] Minister Beazley further recommended that ‘the bulk of [VIP fleet] maintenance be placed with Australian contractors’ and that the new procurements be delivered as soon as contractually practicable, given the likely increased workload associated with Australia’s Bicentenary.[127]

In opening the formal tender process in September 1987, Minister Beazley indicated that the current fleet of BAC 1–11, Mystere 20 and HS 748 aircraft, acquired 20 years prior, had a ‘declining record of serviceability [and were] limited in such critical areas as range, noise, passenger and baggage carrying capacity’.[128] The final decision was announced on 4 December 1988, when Minister Beazley declared that the Government had entered into a ten-year lease with Hawker Pacific for five Falcon 900 aircraft, at an annual average operating cost of $26 million.[129] The Falcon 900 was reportedly selected over the alternative Challenger CL601–3A aircraft, manufactured by Canadair.[130] The lease contract was formally signed on 29 December 1988 at a total cost of $203 million over ten years, with an additional $8 million contract for a three-year maintenance support program.[131]

Falcon 900

Falcon 900 (source: John Davies - CYOW Airport Watch [GFDL 1.2 ( Wikimedia Commons)

In explaining the selection of the Falcon aircraft, Minister Beazley noted that the RAAF had expressed ‘strong operator preference’ for a single type of aircraft fleet, with a Cabinet subcommittee (consisting of Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Minister for Finance Peter Walsh and Beazley) settling on the Falcon aircraft. The stated considerations involved in reaching this decision were: the aircraft’s size; range; utility for current and prospective tasks; price and contract terms and conditions for operations and maintenance; and Australian industry involvement.[132]

The transition to the Falcon aircraft facilitated a 56 position reduction in 34 Squadron’s total establishment, from 184 to 128 personnel.[133] The RAAF’s 34 Squadron received the five new Falcon aircraft on 6 November 1989 and the last BAC 1–11 officially ceased its role as a VIP aircraft shortly after on 30 January 1990.[134]

Privatisation debates

The late 1980s were marked by increased political discussion around the merits of privatisation; a fact overtly demonstrated by the Liberal-National Coalition’s decision to establish a shadow ministry for privatisation in May 1989. While the potential for the VIP fleet’s full privatisation was never publicly discussed by the Government, it canvassed the prospects for commercialisation and other efficiencies in various private forums. For example, the Department of Administrative Services commented in a 1987 Cabinet Minute:

To achieve the objectives outlined in the submission, as a less cost option, further consideration might be given to a program of disposing of some or all of the existing aircraft and replacing that capacity by giving Ministers greater direct access to VIP aircraft operated by charter firms and charged on an hourly rate.[135]

Furthermore, the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on the Wrigley Review (The Defence Force and the Community, published in 1991), suggested that Defence movement and transport programs not specifically related to operations could be candidates for commercialisation/civilianisation.[136] Following the ADF Helicopter School’s transfer from Fairbairn (ACT) to Oakey (Qld) in the mid-1990s, the Department of Defence determined to review its continued use of Fairbairn.[137] This had obvious implications for the RAAF’s VIP fleet, with the Defence Minister, Robert Ray, stating in September 1991:

[The VIP fleet] will be a matter that the Government has to have a look at and make a decision on as to whether this is one of the areas that are contracted out or not. It is certainly not the highest matter on my priority at the moment and I have not directed that it be given a high priority other than indicating that long term this is a thing that has to be looked at. Once the helicopter school leaves Fairbairn, as far as I understand it, its then major use is only for VIP flights, and we will have to look as to whether it is tenable to keep a base for that purpose. Whether it would be cheaper to contract this matter out and how that would affect Air Force training. Those are the sorts of issues that are running through. I would not regard it is as a high priority myself, but it will be a matter that the Government looks at over the next year or two.[138]

The federal Opposition was more direct in its assessment. In a 6 September 1991 speech, the Shadow Minister for Defence, Peter Durack, stated that ‘the future of the VIP fleet will be reviewed, with commercialisation a strong possibility. At this stage the ADF can augment its transport needs with the use of civil aircraft’.[139] The Liberal senator David MacGibbon was also critical, describing the continued VIP operation of 34 Squadron as ‘nonsense’.[140] As part of its defence policy platform leading up to the 1993 federal election, the Coalition lamented the Defence minister’s lack of priority in considering the VIP fleet’s privatisation and saw this as a viable policy if it was demonstrated to be cost effective.[141]

Following the Coalition’s return to government in 1996, the 1997 Defence review included a proposal to close RAAF Base Fairbairn and use ‘commercial aviation facilities for VIP aircraft’ by 2006.[142] Aligned with this was the federal government’s sale of Canberra Airport in May 1998 to the privately owned Canberra Airport Group.[143] Regarding the implications of this sale, an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report noted:

The Prime Minister [advised] … the Minister for Finance and Administration, on 21 January 1998, that the Fairbairn base would be included in the airport lease for Canberra airport. To enable continued operation of the Fairbairn base pending its closure, it was arranged that [Department of Defence] DoD would enter into a five year sub-lease for the Fairbairn site. The sub-lease is designed to facilitate the gradual cessation of RAAF operations at the Fairbairn site. In addition, arrangements have been made to ensure that Canberra Airport continues to provide a permanent home for the Special Purpose Fleet.[144]

The Department of Defence received $21.5 million in revenue following RAAF Base Fairbairn’s disposal, as part of its wider Defence Reform Program.[145] At the conclusion of the sub-lease, RAAF Base Fairbairn was officially decommissioned on 30 June 2003, and evolved to become Defence Establishment Fairbairn within the privately owned Canberra Airport.[146]

Boeing Business Jets and Challenger aircraft

As a purportedly cost-effective alternative to acquiring new aircraft, in 1994 the federal government commenced an upgrade program for the VIP fleet, which was projected to cost up to $10 million.[147] This incorporated improving the fleet’s communications infrastructure, catering facilities, and modifying the Boeing 707 engines to reduce noise.[148] Throughout the 1990s the VIP fleet was subject to multiple reviews. In particular, the Boeing 707 now fell outside the acceptable noise regulations of commercial airports and international maintenance facilities could not be guaranteed for the ageing aircraft. Additionally, the Falcon aircraft lease contract was to expire in December 1999.[149]

In 1997 an interdepartmental committee reportedly investigated options for the future composition of the VIP fleet, including specific briefings from Boeing regarding its 737 aircraft.[150] Five months after the Falcon aircraft was the topic of a Cabinet submission in early February 1998, media reporting suggested that the federal government had determined to renew the Falcon aircraft leases.[151] The assumed rationale for this decision was largely to negate any political backlash in the lead-up to the October election, given the Government’s emphasis on restraining new expenditure.

Notwithstanding the concerns, during December 1998, the Minister for Defence, John Moore, announced that the federal government would replace the existing VIP fleet with new leased aircraft via a tender process. Specifically, Moore proposed that the fleet’s long-range capability would be ‘indicatively represented’ by either the Boeing 737 or Airbus 319 aircraft.[152] At the conclusion of the tender process in August 2000, Minister Moore announced the acquisition of two Boeing 737 Business Jets (BBJ) and three Challenger 604 aircraft to replace the current seven aircraft VIP fleet.[153] The BBJ aircraft could carry 30 passengers in a VIP configuration, significantly fewer than the capacity of the previous 707 variant. The Challenger had seating for nine passengers.[154]

Challenger 604

Challenger 604 (source: Robert Frola [GFDL) Wikimedia Commons)

The need to replace the ageing fleet was demonstrated three months after the minister’s initial announcement in 2000, when the 707 transporting Prime Minister John Howard was grounded with mechanical failure at Darwin while travelling to an APEC Summit in Brunei.[155] In acknowledging the imperative of reliability for the VIP fleet, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley supported government proposals for its replacement, ‘but not by luxury aircraft. By aircraft which turn up on time and in one piece’.[156]

Boeing Business Jets

Boeing Business Jets (source: Jeff Gilbert [GFDL 1.2 ( Wikimedia Commons)

The federal government acquired these aircraft from Qantas under a 12-year lease term.[157] The tender also included outsourced maintenance from Qantas Defence Services (which divested this contract to Northrop Integrated Defence Services for $80 million in February 2014), with most of the disbanded 34 Squadron maintenance crew being transferred to RAAF Base Richmond.[158] Despite the reallocation of these personnel, in 2005 the squadron consisted of 75 staff, incorporating 24 pilots, 22 crew attendants, and 29 covering administration and logistics.[159]

Additionally, the federal government proposed constructing a 6,800m2 hangar (large enough to house all five VIP aircraft and costing $8 million), to be completed by mid-2003.[160] The first of the new aircraft arrived in Australia in late June 2002 with final delivery occurring later that year in October.[161] At this time approximately 50 BBJs were operating internationally for both private and government use.[162]

The BBJ’s interior was purported to include four first-class seats (with the remainder as business-class), two meeting tables, and a shower in the VIP bathroom. The fit-out would also include office equipment, adequate power outlets and a satellite phone capability.[163]

Despite being more fuel-efficient, with a substantially longer range than the previous 707 aircraft, the transition to the 737 BBJ with its reduced passenger capacity eliminated the practice of large groups of journalists accompanying the prime minister overseas. As a result, journalists needed to follow the prime minister’s itinerary using available commercial flights, potentially missing key scheduled events.[164]

A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport Aircraft

While travelling on a commercial 737 aircraft during a ministerial visit to Indonesia in March 2007, five members of the Australian delegation died when the aircraft crash-landed.[165] The commercial flight was required to supplement the VIP fleet’s two Challenger 604 aircraft that were transporting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, and Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock.[166] Following this tragedy, news reporting suggested that media organisations and senior defence officials had lobbied Prime Minister Howard to upgrade the VIP fleet with larger aircraft.[167] However, in September 2007 the Minister for Defence, Brendan Nelson, asserted that the Defence Department ‘has no plans to acquire larger VIP aircraft’.[168]

In lieu of any new aircraft, between March 2008 and November 2009 an additional VIP fleet 737 BBJ was specifically used to transport delegation members (including media personnel) on five occasions, with an Airbus A319 chartered in another instance.[169] Yet during this period the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, continued to advocate for a larger RAAF transport capability, stating in Senate Estimates:

I think it would be really good if we went for a couple of bigger aeroplanes for the VIP task because, frankly, the 737 aircraft is too small for the task. I think some of the risks associated with covering a political visit in the region were brought out very tragically in that terrible incident in Indonesia. It is imperative that we look after our journalists in places where the airline standards are perhaps not as high as they are in our own country. It is fine in Australia, but when travelling many places around the world there are concerns about certain carriers and their particular airworthiness and flying standards. There is probably a requirement to have a bigger aeroplane. At some stage, the Australian government needs to have a look at a larger aeroplane. It would probably make a lot of sense to do that sooner rather than later after the tragedy that befell us as a nation last year.[170]

The improved VIP capability turned out to have first been announced by the RAAF four years earlier, albeit with a different focus. On 16 April 2004 the Minister for Defence, Robert Hill, announced that the Airbus A330 had been selected over the Boeing 767 as a replacement air-to-air refuelling capability for the RAAF’s current Boeing 707 fleet.[171] Minster Hill announced the contract to supply five A330 aircraft multi-role tanker transport aircraft (to be known as KC–30A aircraft) on 20 December 2004, with the fleet anticipated to enter RAAF service in 2009.[172] However, Defence added the KC–30A to its ‘Projects of Concern’ list in February 2010 due to refuelling capability problems, before removing it in March 2015 following successful remediation work.[173]


KC-30A (source: Eugene Butler [GFDL 1.2 ( Wikimedia Commons)

When the KC-30A achieved initial operating capability in February 2013, Prime Minister Julia Gillard used the aircraft to lead a delegation to China two months later.[174] Former Secretary of Defence, Dennis Richardson, indicated during Senate Estimates that he first raised the concept of using KC–30 aircraft for VIP travel with Prime Minister Gillard in 2013, stating:

Consistent with advice that I have given to successive Prime Ministers, I suggested that this [the KC–30] was an opportunity to have a proper long-range aircraft that could cater for the Prime Minister travelling abroad in the same way as the 707s were utilised under previous governments.

I used to travel abroad with Prime Minister Hawke, and I have also travelled with prime ministers in the current 737 configuration. The current 737 is totally and utterly inadequate for a Prime Minister travelling abroad, not out of any reason of status but simply in terms of the practicality of the aircraft, in terms of both the Prime Minister and the travelling officials. And of course the current configuration does not allow the media to travel with the Prime Minister, which used to happen with the 707.

[The KC–30] will be like the old 707s. It is not going to be utilised for domestic travel. Its prime purpose is for air refuelling. And the first call on the aircraft will be for operational reasons, just like the old 707 was. They will factor into the annual planning for use of this particular aircraft foreshadowed travel abroad that might require the use of the aircraft. But if there was a clash between operational requirements and prime ministerial travel, operational requirements would come first.[175]

In June 2015 the federal government approved Defence’s acquisition of two additional former Qantas A330 aircraft, through Defence’s Project AIR 7403 Phase 3.[176] Initially purchased in November 2015 for approximately US$60 million, the Government approved a total expenditure of $853 million to convert them into air-to-air refuellers.[177] Subsequently, in February 2016 the Government further determined that one of the new aircraft should be upgraded with a ‘Government Transport and Communications’ (GTC) capability.[178]

The first of these new KC–30A aircraft was delivered to 33 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley in September 2017, following its refuelling conversion at the Airbus facility at Getafe, Spain.[179] The GTC installation, at a reported cost of $187.7 million, commenced in October 2017 at the Lufthansa Technik facility in Hamburg, Germany.[180] In addition to the secure government communications capability, the fit-out reportedly incorporated accommodation, a meeting room and working area. Three quarters of the purchased ex-Qantas seating was retained and installed alongside two refurbished first-class seats sourced from a Lufthansa A330 aircraft.[181]

The RAAF received delivery of the GTC-equipped KC–30A aircraft in May 2019.[182] Prime Minister Scott Morrison used it for the first time in September 2019, for an official visit to the US.[183] Commentators suggested that only one aircraft type would be needed to replace the Challenger and BBJ aircraft, given the KC–30A provides a specific long-haul capability.[184] An alternative option of maintaining the BBJ for domestic use in addition to a specific Challenger replacement has also been suggested.[185]

Dassault Falcon 7X

The RAAF received the first of three Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft on 16 April 2019, to replace the VIP fleet’s Challenger aircraft. The Falcon 7X provides a range of up to 11,000 km (almost double that of the Challengers), while allowing for 14 passengers alongside a three-person crew.[186] The final Falcon 7X aircraft was delivered on 7 August 2019, with the last Challenger flight later that month.[187] Procured on an initial ten-year lease, these aircraft were produced at Dassault’s production facility in Bordeaux, France, before they were transferred via the company’s delivery centre in Arkansas, USA.[188] Having replaced the Challenger fleet and acquired the new long-haul capability of the KC–30A, the RAAF extended the two 737 BBJ leases to mid-2024. Both BBJ aircraft were also due to receive upgraded satellite communications systems by the first quarter of 2020.[189]

Dassault Falcon 7X

Dassault Falcon 7X (source: (c) Commonwealth of Australia 2020 Department of Defence)

Non-RAAF VIP flights

Although the RAAF operates the vast majority of VIP flights, occasionally additional capacity is sought from external sources. For example, in May 1970 the Minister for Civil Aviation, Robert Cotton, noted in parliament (in relation to the potential for accommodating VIP flights), ‘the rule of the Department of Civil Aviation is that if the aircraft it has are available and are capable of doing the job … they will be made available on request’.[190] In relation to the number of such flights undertaken, parliamentary questions on notice in 1978 and 1989 indicated nine occurrences over the 1977–78 financial year, 11 occurrences in 1986–87 and four occurrences in 1987–88.[191] Similar to VIP flights operated by the RAAF, a component of the operating costs was recoverable from the VIP’s ministerial department.[192]

The Fokker F28, three of which were procured in 1976 by the Department of Transport, was used for these additional capacity ad hoc VIP flights.[193] Responsibility for these aircraft subsequently transitioned to the Department of Aviation, then the Civil Aviation Authority and finally Airservices Australia. The Department of Transport and Communications sold one of the F28 aircraft to Ansett in 1987 and Airservices Australia sold the remaining two aircraft in 1998.[194] An Astra 1125 SP and a Beechcraft Super King Air 350 aircraft directly replaced the F28s; however, their operations were immediately outsourced to the privately owned company Pearl Aviation Australia.[195]

Fokker F28

Fokker F28 (source: Daniel Tanner / CC BY-SA ( (Wikimedia Commons)

Private charters have also been used to supplement the VIP fleet. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser reported in 1978 that he had chartered aircraft for travel between his home in Nareen, western Victoria, to both Melbourne and Canberra. In justifying these charter flights Prime Minister Fraser contended it was cheaper than driving to the nearest airport (Mount Gambier) and then using the RAAF’s VIP fleet.[196]

Charter aircraft have also been used when additional capacity is required, such as during election campaigns or for large delegations travelling overseas.[197] Prime Minister William McMahon attracted media criticism for using domestic commercial airlines on his first overseas trip in 1971 and so the following year chartered a Qantas Boeing 707 on a tour to Asia.[198] Similarly, in 1974 Prime Minister Gough Whitlam used commercial flights for travel to Indonesia and the US before chartering a Qantas Boeing 707 for a five-week visit to Europe.[199]

In more recent times, the federal government provides parliamentarians representing large electorates with additional allowances for charter flights. These allowances range from $10,420 per annum for MPs with electorates of 10,000 to 24,999 km2, to $120,000 per annum for MPs with electorates of 300,000 km2 or more.[200] While use of this allowance has occasionally led to media scrutiny, the scale of such activity is relatively small.[201] For example, in financial year 2017–18 only 32 of the total 150 MPs (21 per cent) could access this entitlement, and only 19 of these did so. Additionally, of the almost $650,000 that was spent on charter flights in 2017–18, more than three quarters was used by the seven MPs who have electorates over 300,000km2, with approximately half of the total annual allowance remaining unused.[202]

Protocols and reporting of VIP flights

During parliamentary debates on 17 April 1963, Edward Ward, the Member for East Sydney and former Minister for Transport in the Curtin and Chifley governments, asked the Minister for Air, David Fairbairn, a series of pointed questions regarding policies for VIP flight use.[203] Responding in writing more than a month later, Minister Fairbairn indicated that the Governor-General and prime minister authorised their own use of VIP flights, while all other use required his personal authorisation. In an interview following his retirement from parliament, Fairbairn recalled the personal challenges he sometimes faced while the Minister for Air, where as a relatively junior minister he was on occasion required to deny VIP flights to his more senior colleagues.[204] While asserting that ‘each request made to me is considered on its merits, its degree of urgency and the availability of aircraft’, the minister acknowledged that once a request was granted, the applicant could admit other passengers, including family and/or staff members.[205]

Minister Fairbairn’s response also referred to Ward’s request for over three years of details regarding VIP flight passengers and their purpose for travel. According to Fairbairn:

… the preparation of such a statement would entail a considerable amount of work for my department. I have told the honourable member that VIP aircraft are used by both service and civilian personnel on the occasion of my authority. I can see no point in having a statement compiled which could only serve to confirm this.[206]

Later, on 29 March 1966, the Labor MP Charles Griffiths asked Prime Minister Holt why only Government members of the Public Works Committee could use a VIP Viscount aircraft for delegation travel to RAAF Base Williamtown, but he and another Labor committee member could not.[207] While Prime Minister Holt claimed no knowledge of this particular circumstance, the situation prompted him to consult with the Minister for Air, Peter Howson, in drawing up guiding rules for the VIP fleet.[208]

The lack of clarity regarding use of the VIP fleet had significant consequences less than two months later, when Prime Minister Holt asserted in parliament that the federal government did not keep records of VIP flight passengers or destinations, and so could not make them publicly available.[209] That this was untrue was demonstrated when John Gorton tabled VIP flight details in the parliament on 25 October 1967. The controversy led Minister Howson to offer his resignation from the frontbench, an offer Prime Minister Holt rejected despite the criticism of his government’s accountability and transparency.[210] This also became the catalyst for routine reporting of VIP fleet travel schedules, which are routinely prepared by the Department of Defence and tabled in parliament every six months.[211]

Having seemingly dealt with the issue of transparent reporting, the question of who was entitled to use the VIP fleet continued to garner significant interest. On 23 April 1969 Cabinet noted:

… the Minister for Air administered the use of VIP aircraft according to general guidelines but that these guidelines had not been reduced to a precise set of rules. It saw that there could be considerations for avoiding the inflexibility which would result from precise rules.[212]

In lieu of any precise rules, McKellar (representing the Minister for Air) informed the Senate on 14 May 1969:

… the procedure has been that a Minister, provided he could not get ordinary commercial transport, was entitled to the use of a VIP plane. If he was going to an electorate and the sitting member wanted to accompany him, he could take along that sitting member. He could not take a senator. We had this out in the Senate some time ago. In brief, those were the rules governing the use of VIP flights.[213]

The Minister for Air, Thomas Drake-Brockman, provided a more structured set of guidelines to the parliament in September 1970. While largely in keeping with the guidance previously provided, more clarity was given regarding the VIP fleet’s possible use by parliamentary delegations and committees as well as representatives of the news media. Additionally, the guidelines also restricted the accompanying passengers on a VIP flight to a spouse, personal staff and/or departmental officials.[214]

A Cabinet submission dated 9 February 1973 and prepared by the Minister for Defence, Lance Barnard, again updated the federal government’s RAAF VIP aircraft travel rules.[215] This revised policy was presented to parliament the following month, with the Minister for Defence noting the emphasis on VIP fleet availability only when alternative transport was unavailable, but with renewed discretion for accompanying family members other than a spouse.[216] The Government applied further restrictions on VIP flights in March 1975, with Cabinet agreeing that requests for VIP flights between Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney would require written notice seven days in advance, including the reason why a commercial flight could not be used.[217] It was also reported in January 1976 that ministers would be required to reschedule appointments wherever possible in order to preference commercial flights.[218]

In February 1978 the Minister for Defence, Jim Killen, provided Cabinet with an updated set of guidelines to provide further clarity and remove ‘inconsistencies’.[219] The stated requirements as to who can access and approve VIP flights have generally remained consistent since this time, with the most recent guidelines (published in 2013) providing additional costings and reporting requirements.[220]


The convergent growth in aircraft technology and the travel requirements of senior government officials has led to the Defence Department’s special purpose fleet becoming a key enabler for the business of government. The pre-Second World War necessities of arduous domestic train travel and time-consuming international ship voyages have now been replaced by fast and largely secure air travel, allowing passengers to maintain their connectivity and capacity to work.

However, questions about the transparency and cost-effectiveness of the fleet’s operations have been regularly raised. The acquisition and operational costs of the fleet, ultimately paid for by the tax-payer, have grown as the fleet has evolved, leading to ongoing scrutiny from the media and members of Senate Estimates committees. Accordingly, successive governments have sought to emphasise the Department of Defence’s and executive government’s operational need for the fleet, while attempting to moderate any perceptions of the aircraft as luxurious or excessive.

[1].   J Symon and G McGregor, ‘Days and hours of sitting’, Senate, Debates, 5 June 1901, p. 643.

[2].   Australian Government, ‘Flying machines for military purposes’, Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 11 September 1909, p. 1506.

[3].   E Roberts, ‘Answer to Question: Defence—aeroplanes’, [Questioner: W Finlayson], House of Representatives, Debates, 25 October 1911, p. 1796.

[4].   ‘Military aviators: corps for Australia’, The Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 January 1911, p. 9.

[5].   D Steel, ‘The actions of the Australian Flying Corps, First AIF, on the Western Front 1916–1918’, Defence Force Journal, 65, July/August 1987, p. 49; Australian Government, ‘Appointment of two competent mechanists and aviators’, Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 6 January 1912, p. 9.

[6].   ‘A flying minister: Postmaster-General among the clouds’, The Sun (Sydney), 3 January 1912, p. 1.

[7].   ‘Prime minister visits Longreach’, The Longreach Leader, 31 October 1924, p. 15.

[8].   ‘Dr Earle Page’s flight’, The Mercury, 12 November 1926, p. 4.

[9].   ‘Airways bulletin’, The Daily News (Perth), 2 August 1928, p. 9.

[10].   ‘Our flying Gov-General’, The Weekly Times (Melbourne), 26 December 1925, p. 8.

[11].   RAAF, ‘RAAF museum Point Cook: DH50A’, RAAF website; ‘Gov.-Gen’s Aeroplane’, The Weekly Times (Melbourne), 27 February 1926, p. 9.

[12].   RAAF, ‘RAAF museum Point Cook: DH50A’, op. cit.

[13].   ‘Air minded: ministers travel by plane’, The Canberra Times, 1 March 1938, p. 2.

[14].   C Turnbull, ‘Three states in one day: Mr Lyon’s headlong election tour’, The Advertiser (Adelaide), 30 September 1937, p. 22.

[15].   ‘Treasurer now an aviator: qualifies for licence’, The Argus, 24 January 1938, p. 2.

[16].   G Pearce, ‘Adjournment: privileges of parliamentarians’, Senate, Debates, 11 November 1936, p. 1654.

[17].   C Butler, Flying start: the history of the first five decades of civil aviation in Australia, Edwards & Shaw, Sydney, 1971, pp. 44–45.

[18].   ‘Plane for use of ministers: cutting expenses’, The Courier-Mail, 18 May 1938, p. 3.

[19].   ‘Fly ministers to Canberra: work for new plane’, The Courier-Mail, 4 May 1939, p. 5; J Fairbairn, ‘Answer to question without notice: Aeroplane for use of Civil Aviation Department’, [Questioner: F Forde], House of Representatives, Debates, 6 June 1939, pp. 1233–4.

[20].   ‘Mr. Hughes hurt in aeroplane smash at Beaudesert’, The Courier-Mail, 12 June 1936, p. 15.

[21]. J Bennett, Highest traditions: the history of the No. 2 Squadron, RAAF, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1995, pp. 107–113; ‘Ten killed in air crash’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 1940, p. 11.

[22].   ‘Cause of crash a mystery’, The Argus, 14 August 1940, p. 2.

[23].   ‘Federal ministers travel by plane: only two at a time’, Townsville Daily Bulletin, 29 August 1940, p. 5.

[24].   ‘Three ministers use same plane to Canberra’, The Telegraph (Brisbane), 18 November 1940, p. 5.

[25].   H Thorby, ‘Ministerial statement’, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 November 1939, pp. 1248–9; J Clark, ‘Estimates 1940–41’, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 December 1940, p. 863.

[26].   A Tink, Air disaster Canberra: the plane crash that destroyed a government, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, 2013, p. 150.

[27].   N Carlyon, I remember Blamey, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1980, p. 98; J Hetherington, Blamey: controversial soldier, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1973, p. 235.

[28].   ‘Skirmish on air liner: Blamey and the air hostess’, Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative, 17 August 1942, p. 3.

[29].   National Archives of Australia (NAA): ‘RAAF Unit history sheets (Form A50) [Operations record book—forms A50 and A51] Numbers 1, 2 and 3 Communication Unit Feb 1940–Feb 46’ Series number A9186, p. 65.

[30].   Ibid., pp. 65–204.

[31].   ‘Duke’s planes: flight formation announced’, The West Australian, 30 January 1945, p. 4; RAAF Historical Section, Maritime and transport units, Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: a concise history, volume 4, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1995, p. 183; ‘Duke’s York being prepared for Australia’, Tweed Daily, 15 February 1945, p. 4.

[32].   ‘Luxury airliner report denied’, The Canberra Times, 19 March 1945, p. 2.

[33].   NAA, ‘RAAF Unit history sheets (Form A50) [Operations record book—forms A50 and A51] Governor-General’s communication flight Apr 45–Jul 47. Number 34 Squadron Jul 55–Mar 83’ Series number A9186, p. 4.

[34].   NAA, ‘Governor-General. Appointment of Duke of Gloucester 1943’, Series number A5954, pp. 14–21.

[35]. ‘“No unnecessary expense”: Duke’s plans for Canberra’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 December 1943, p. 10.

[36].   NAA, ‘Governor-General’s Communication Flight Apr 45–Jul 47. Number 34 Squadron Jul 55–Mar 83’ op. cit., p. 48.

[37].   RAAF Historical Section, Maritime and transport units, op. cit., p. 183; NAA: ‘Numbers 1, 2 and 3 Communication Unit Feb 1940–Feb 46’ op. cit., p. 156.

[38].   NAA, ‘RAAF Unit history sheets (Form A50) [Operations record book—forms A50 and A51] Number 36 Squadron Apr 42–Feb 53’, Series number A9186, pp. 181.

[39].   NAA, ‘RAAF Unit history sheets (Form A50) [Operations record book—forms A50 and A51] Number 38 Squadron Sep 43–Jul 66’, Series number A9186, p. 144.

[40].   NAA, ‘Number 36 Squadron Apr 42–Feb 53’, op. cit., p. 159; RAAF Historical Section, Maritime and transport units, op. cit., p. 41.

[41].   RAAF Historical Section, Maritime and transport units, op. cit., p. 45.

[42].   ‘RAAF purchase of new Convair planes reported’, The Canberra Times, 11 January 1956, p. 7.

[43].   S Paltridge, ‘Answer to question in writing: purchase op [sic] Convair aircraft’, [Questioner: N Henty], Senate, Debates, 31 May 1956, p. 1124; N O’Sullivan, ‘Second reading speech: Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill (No. 2) 1955–56’, Senate, Debates, 24 March 1956, p. 985.

[44].   H Holt, ‘Answers to Questions: VIP aircraft’, [Questioner: W Hayden], Question 668, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 October 1967, p. 2300.

[45].   E Harrison, ‘Question: Dollars’, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 May 1956, p. 2019; E Peters, ‘Question: Purchase of Convair aircraft’, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 May 1956, p. 2175; J O’Byrne, ‘Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill (No. 2) 1955–56: Second reading speech’, Senate, Debates, 24 May 1956, p. 983.

[46]. S Paltridge, ‘Answer to question in writing: purchase op [sic] Convair aircraft’, op. cit., p. 1124.

[47].   A Townley, ‘Question: purchase of Convair aircraft’, [Questioner: J Cairns], House of Representatives, Debates, 24 May 1956, p. 2446.

[48].   ‘New V.I.P. plane due today’, The Canberra Times, 16 May 1956, p. 2.

[49].   S Paltridge, ‘Answer to question in writing: Royal Australian Air Force’, [Questioner: M Scott], Senate, Debates, 8 May 1957, p. 572.

[50].   H Wade, ‘Question: Royal Australian Air Force’, [Questioner: D McClelland], Senate, Debates, 17 September 1964, p. 532.

[51].   ‘For the Duke’, The Argus, 2 October 1956, p. 8.

[52].   ‘Air Chief visits VIP flight at Fairbairn’, The Canberra Times, 31 October 1956, p. 4.

[53].   A Eggleton, Memo to heads of service, press gallery, Canberra: Prime minister’s visit to Asia: press party, media release, 20 February 1967.

[54].   NAA, ‘Use of VIP aircraft’, Series number A5619, op. cit., pp. 66–99, 124.

[55].   Ibid., p. 64; ‘V.I.P. flight “will stay in R.A.A.F.”’, The Canberra Times, 26 April 1963, p. 23.

[56].   NAA, ‘Use of VIP aircraft’, op. cit., p. 64.

[57].   Ibid., p. 60.

[58].   Ibid., pp. 56, 58–61.

[59].   Ibid., p. 32.

[60].   Ibid., pp. 56, 48–54.

[61].   Ibid., p. 43.

[62].   ‘R.A.A.F. to buy V.I.P. Viscounts’, The Canberra Times, 7 July 1964, p. 3.

[63].   P Howson (Minister for Air), RAAF Viscount from America, media release, 23 July 1964; P Howson (Minister for Air), RAAF to purchase second Viscount aircraft, media release, 30 July 1964.

[64].   NAA, ‘Personal papers of Prime Minister Holt 13–21 July 1964’, Series number M2568, pp. 62–3.

[65].   Auditor-General, Report of the Auditor-General upon the Treasurer’s statement of receipts and expenditure, and upon other accounts for the year ended 30th June 1966, p. 162.

[66].   NAA, ‘Use of VIP aircraft’, op. cit., p. 24.

[67].   Ibid., pp. 24, 19.

[68].   M Scott, ‘Ministerial statements: Royal Australian Air Force VIP flight’, Senate, Debates, 5 October 1967, p. 1213.

[69].   NAA, ‘Use of VIP aircraft’, op. cit., p. 19.

[70].   J Killen, ‘Grievance debate: purchase of aircraft for Australian Airlines’, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 April 1965, p. 764.

[71].   NAA, ‘Use of VIP aircraft’, op. cit., p. 23.

[72].   F Cranston, ‘The VIP fleet: a matter of choice (and money)’, The Canberra Times, 4 October 1967, p. 2.

[73].   NAA, ‘Use of VIP aircraft’, op. cit., pp. 22–3.

[74].   NAA, ‘Use of VIP aircraft’, op. cit., p. 18.

[75].   P Howson ‘Royal Australian Air Force: ministerial statement’, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 December 1965,
pp. 3407–8.

[76].   RAAF, New jet aircraft for No. 34 Squadron, media release, 15 January 1968; ‘VIP flight addition’, The Canberra Times, 15 February 1968, p. 12.

[77].   ‘The first of the new VIP aircraft arrives’, The Canberra Times, 19 January 1968, p. 3.

[78].   ‘Up, up and away with John Grey’, The Canberra Times, 2 October 1969, p. 3.

[79].   NAA, ‘Cabinet paper no. 317: aircraft for 34 Squadron—ministers responsible: Mr Killen (Defence) and Mr Nixon (Transport)—presenting at Cabinet meeting 1 May 1978—decision no. 5190—file no. LC464’, Series number A12933, p. 5.

[80].   Auditor-General, Report of the Auditor-General upon the Treasurer’s statement of receipts and expenditure, and upon other accounts for the year ended 30th June 1970, p. 348.

[81].   Auditor-General, Report of the Auditor-General upon the Treasurer’s statement of receipts and expenditure, and upon other accounts for the year ended 30th June 1969, p. 305.

[82].   Auditor-General, Report of the Auditor-General upon the Treasurer’s statement of receipts and expenditure, and upon other accounts for the year ended 30th June 1968, p. 292.

[83].   ‘Prestige aircraft: wraps off V.I.P. Squadron’, The Canberra Times, 23 January 1968, p. 3.

[84].   ‘Canberra air link goes’, The Canberra Times, 14 August 1967, p. 1.

[85].   F Cranston, ‘Luxury aircraft up for sale again’, The Canberra Times, 21 June 1968, p. 7.

[86].   RAAF Museum, ‘A96 Convair CV-440 Metropolitan’, website.

[87].   K Anderson, ‘Answer to Question: VIP aircraft’, [Questioner: J Toohey], Senate, Debates, 25 November 1969, p. 20.

[88].   T Drake-Brockman, ‘Question: Royal Australian Air Force’, [Questioner: R Bishop], Senate, Debates, 7 April 1971, p. 804.

[89].   ‘RAAF is “looking” at “old” jets’, The Canberra Times, 14 March 1969, p. 11; F Cranston, ‘Boeing 707s likely to back up F-111s’, The Canberra Times, 31 December 1969, p. 1; T Drake-Brockman, ‘Question: Royal Australian Air Force’, [Questioner: C Maunsell], Senate, Debates, 15 April 1970, p. 749.

[90].   ‘Whitlam may have 707 for trips’, The Australian, 23 January 1973.

[91].   Ibid.

[92].   F Cranston, ‘No Boeing 707s for RAAF’, The Canberra Times, 9 March 1974, p. 7.

[93].   L Murphy, ‘Question: VIP aircraft’, [Questioner: M Townley], Senate, Debates, 1 August 1974, p. 687.

[94].   NAA, ‘Cabinet paper no. 317’, Series number A12933, op. cit., p. 7; M Fraser, ‘Question: VIP fleet—purchase of aircraft’, [Questioner: C Jones], House of Representatives, Debates, 8 May 1978, pp. 1955-6.

[95].   NAA, ‘Cabinet paper no. 319: overseas travel by the prime minister: assessment of aircraft security considerations—ministers responsible: Senator Withers (Administrative Services) and Mr Fraser (Prime Minister and Cabinet)—presented at Cabinet meeting 1 May 1978—decision no. 5190—file no. LC464’, Series number A12933, pp. 3, 8.

[96].   NAA, ‘Cabinet paper no. 317’, Series number A12933, op. cit., p. 16.

[97].   F Cranston, ‘“No RAAF place” for 727s’, The Canberra Times, 28 March 1978, p. 9; J Killen, ‘Ministerial statements: acquisition of aircraft by Royal Australian Air Force’, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 May 1978, pp. 1781–2.

[98].   R Landers, Who bombed the Hilton?, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, 2016, p. 9; P Costigan, ‘Govt. to buy 2 VIP Boeings’, The Herald (Melbourne), May 1978, p. 3.

[99]. R Mark, Report to the Minister for Administrative Services on the organisation of police resources in the Commonwealth area and other related matters, 6 April 1978, pp. 13–14; J Killen, ‘Acquisition of aircraft by Royal Australian Air Force’, op. cit., pp. 1781–2.

[100]. Australian Government, Protective security review: unclassified version, 1979, p. 137.

[101]. P Keating, ‘Matter of Public Importance: Royal Australian Air Force: acquisition of aircraft’, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 May 1978, pp. 1888–90.

[102]. R Withers, ‘Answers to questions on notice: purchase of aircraft for VIP fleet’, [Questioner K Wriedt], Question 411, Senate, Debates, 9 June 1978, pp. 2821–2.

[103]. ‘VIP aircraft’, The Canberra Times, 11 October 1978, p. 15; F Cranston, ‘Qantas jets back in reckoning’, The Canberra Times, 29 November 1978, p. 10.

[104]. NAA, ‘Submission no. 2834: special purpose aircraft for No 34 Squadron RAAF—decisions 7308 (ad hoc) and 7364’, Series number A12909, pp. 5, 14, 9; F Cranston, ‘Qantas jets back in reckoning’, op. cit.

[105]. J Killen (Minister for Defence), Purchase of aircraft, media release, 13 December 1978.

[106]. F Chaney, ‘Matter of urgency: Fraser government’, Senate, Debates, 29 March 1979, pp. 1113–4; J McLeay (Minister for Administrative Services), For the news, media release, 21 May 1979.

[107]. J Carrick (citing M Fraser), ‘Answers to questions: VIP aircraft’, [Questioner: M Townley], Senate, Debates, 31 May 1979, p. 2510.

[108]. M Townley (citing M Fraser), ‘Second reading speech: Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1979–80’, Senate, Debates, 20 November 1979, pp. 2592–4.

[109]. Department of Defence, First operation flight for RAAF Boeing 707, media release, 18 April 1979; ‘Super seating on PM’s Boeing’, The Canberra Times, 19 April 1979, p. 3.

[110]. J Killen, ‘Purchase of aircraft’, op. cit.; ‘VIP aircraft too heavy for airport’, The Canberra Times, 14 January 1979, p. 3.

[111]. F Cranston, ‘Airport-works cost now $220,000’, The Canberra Times, 23 January 1979, p. 7.

[112]. Department of Finance, ‘Advance to the Finance Minister’, website.

[113]. Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, Report on the advance to the Minister for Finance, The Senate, Canberra, August 1979, p. 26; P Morris, V.I.P. planes—purchase, deceit, media release, 25 March 1979.

[114]. E Robinson, ‘Discussion of matter of public importance: purchase of VIP aircraft’, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 March 1979, pp. 1222–3.

[115]. Australian Government, ‘Statement no. 3—estimates of outlays, 1979–80’, Budget measures: budget paper no.1: 1979–1980, p. 66; Australian Government, ‘Statement no. 3—estimates of outlays, 1980–81’, Budget measures: budget paper no. 1: 1980–81, p. 70, Australian Government, ‘Statement no. 3—estimates of outlays, 1981–82’, Budget measures: budget paper no.1: 1981–1982, p. 67; Australian Government, ‘Statement no. 3—estimates of outlays, 1982–83’, Budget measures: budget paper no.1: 1982–1983, p. 67; Australian Government, ‘Statement no. 3—estimates of outlays, 1983–84’, Budget measures: budget paper no.1: 1983–1984, p. 74; Australian Government, ‘Statement no. 3—estimates of outlays, 1985–86’, Budget measures: budget paper no.1: 1985–1986, p. 84.

[116]. B Hayden, Address to the opening of Labor’s federal election campaign 1980, media release, 1 October 1980, p. 10.

[117]. F Cranston, ‘RAAF wants to buy three former QANTAS 707s’, The Canberra Times, 25 June 1980, p. 3.

[118]. I Sinclair (Minister for Defence), Two additional B707 aircraft to be purchased by RAAF, media release, 3 October 1982; Department of Defence, Two additional B707s for RAAF, media release, 20 June 1983.

[119]. G Scholes, ‘Questions without notice: Boeing 707 aircraft’, [Questioner: R Edwards], House of Representatives, Debates, 5 May 1983, p. 259.

[120]. K Beazley (Minister for Defence), RAAF 707’s to get in-flight refuelling, media release, 26 August 1986.

[121]. K Beazley (Minister for Defence), Government approves purchase of two Boeing 707 aircraft, media release, 17 December 1987.

[122]. NAA, ‘Cabinet submission 5462—additional Boeing 707 aircraft—decision 10617’, Series number A14039, p. 4.

[123]. Ibid., pp. 9–10.

[124]. Department of Defence, Leasing of VIP fleet, media release, 5 September 1986.

[125]. F Cranston, ‘Tenders expected to be called soon for dual-role aircraft’, The Canberra Times, 30 October 1984, p. 8.

[126]. NAA, ‘Cabinet submission 5272: replacement of Special Purpose (34 Squadron) aircraft—decision 10332’, series number A14039, p. 9.

[127]. Ibid., pp. 9–10.

[128]. K Beazley (Minister for Defence), Tenders sought for new RAAF VIP aircraft, media release, 30 September 1987.

[129]. K Beazley (Minister for Defence), Special purpose aircraft replacement, media release, 4 December 1988.

[130]. ‘Four vie for VIP fleet’, The Canberra Times, 11 August 1988, p. 2.

[131]. Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (FADT) Legislation Committee, Official committee Hansard, 14 April 1989,
pp. D125–D126.

[132]. G Richardson, ‘Answers to questions: VIP aircraft’, [Questioner M Baume], Question 724, Senate, Debates, 28 February 1989, p. 139.

[133]. R Ray, ‘Answers to questions: No. 34 Squadron’, [Questioner D MacGibbon], Question 792, Senate, Debates, 17 June 1991, p. 4774.

[134]. ‘New VIP fleet is accepted at Fairbairn’, The Canberra Times, 7 November 1989, p. 13; ‘Last of the VIP fleet’s BACs is farewelled’, The Canberra Times, 31 January 1990, p. 4.

[135]. NAA, ‘Cabinet submission 5272’, op. cit., p. 6.

[136]. Interdepartmental Committee on the Wrigley Review, Report on the Wrigley Review: ‘The Defence force and the community’, May 1991, p. 36.

[137]. Department of Defence, ‘Force structure review backgrounder: summary’ in Force structure review: Senate briefing notes, 1991.

[138]. Senate FADT Legislation Committee, Official committee Hansard, 11 September 1991, p. B203.

[139]. P Durack (Shadow Minister for Defence), Australia’s defence self-sufficiency: can we stand alone?, media release, 6 September 1991, p. 8.

[140]. D MacGibbon, ‘Ministerial statements: Defence policy’, Senate, Debates, 30 May 1991, p. 3983.

[141]. Liberal Party/National Party Coalition, A strong Australia: rebuilding Australia’s defence, media release, October 1992, p. 105.

[142]. Department of Defence, Future directions for the management of Australia’s defence: addendum to the report of the Defence efficiency review—secretariat papers, 1997, pp. 230–1.

[143]. Canberra Airport, About, website.

[144]. Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), Phase 2 of the sales of the federal airports, Audit report, 48, 1998–99, ANAO, Barton, ACT, 21 June 1999, p. 73.

[145]. Department of Defence, Annual report 1998–1999, Department of Defence, Canberra, 1999, p. 13.

[146]. Department of Defence, ‘Defence Establishment Fairbairn’, website.

[147]. L Tingle, ‘Upgrade for VIP fleet to cut costs’, The Australian, 19 April 1994.

[148]. Ibid.

[149]. T Wright, ‘Keating wants $60m for two new VIP planes’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 June 1993; Senate FADT Legislation Committee, Official committee Hansard, 12 June 1997, pp. 463–4.

[150]. I Thomas, ‘Upgrade of VIP jet fleet on the cards again’, Australian Financial Review, 28 February 1997, p. 9.

[151]. I Thomas, ‘Plans for a $160m VIP air fleet’, Australian Financial Review, 24 February 1998, p. 5; I Thomas, ‘Government defers upgrading VIP jets’, Australian Financial Review, 16 July 1998, p. 9.

[152]. J Moore (Minister for Defence), Special purpose aircraft decision, media release, 16 December 1998.

[153]. J Moore (Minister for Defence), Special purpose aircraft decision, media release, 11 August 2000.

[154]. ‘RAAF aircraft’, Our Air Force, November 2008.

[155]. L Dodson, ‘Air fleet lands PM short of summit’, The Age, 15 November 2000.

[156]. K Beazley, Doorstop interview, media release, 15 November 2000.

[157]. Senate FADT Legislation Committee, Official committee Hansard, 21 February 2001, p. 44.

[158]. S Fairlie, ‘Last Falcon flies away’, Air Force News, 19 December 2002, p. 3; P Smart, ‘RAAF VIP fleet replacement postponed’, Aviation Business Asia Pacific, July/August 2014, p. 20.

[159]. P Sadler, ‘34 Squadron: special purpose transport’, Australian Aviation, December 2005, p. 61.

[160]. P Clack, ‘VIP fleet will remain at Fairbairn’, The Canberra Times, 14 September 2002; P Sadler, ‘34 Squadron’, op. cit., p. 65.

[161]. P Sadler, ‘34 Squadron: special purpose transport’, Australian Aviation, December 2005, p. 62.

[162]. E Lim, ‘Travelling in style’, Aircraft & Aerospace, October 2002, p. 41.

[163]. Senate FADT Legislation Committee, Official committee Hansard, 19 February 2001, pp. 65–6.

[164]. ‘RAAF aircraft’, Our Air Force, November 2008; S Creedy, ‘VIP fleet runs out of puff’, The Australian, 17 November 2000; P Smart, ‘RAAF VIP fleet replacement postponed’, Aviation Business Asia Pacific, July/August 2014, p. 20.

[165]. J Howard, Transcript of the prime minister … Indonesia plane crash, media release, 7 March 2007; J Howard, ‘Yogyakarta aircraft accident’, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 March 2007, p. 1.

[166]. Department of Defence, Schedule of special purpose flights: 1 January 2007 to 30 June 2007, pp. 18–9.

[167]. P Coorey, ‘Filled to the max: VIP planes likely to be upgraded’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 April 2008, p. 4.

[168]. B Nelson, ‘Questions in writing: Defence: VIP aircraft’, [Questioner: J Fitzgibbon], House of Representatives, Debates, 11 September 2007, p. 121.

[169]. Department of Defence, Schedule of special purpose flights, op. cit., various.

[170]. Senate FADT Legislation Committee, Official committee Hansard, 4 June 2008, p. 159.

[171]. R Hill (Minister for Defence), EADS/QANTAS wins $2 billion air-to-air refuelling competition, media release, 16 April 2004.

[172]. R Hill (Minister for Defence), New air to air refuelling aircraft for the RAAF, media release, 20 December 2004.

[173]. Department of Defence, ‘Projects of concern list update’, website, 6 March 2015.

[174]. S Smith, Capability update—air projects, media release, 26 February 2013; Department of Defence, Schedule of Special Purpose Flights: 01 January to 30 June 2013, p. 37.

[175]. Senate FADT Legislation Committee, Official committee Hansard, 19 October 2016, pp. 92, 94.

[176]. ANAO, 2017–18 major projects report, Audit report, 20, 2018–19, ANAO, Barton, ACT, 2019, p. 282.

[177]. Senate FADT Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Defence Portfolio, Additional Budget Estimates 2017–18, 28 February 2018, Question no. 34; Senate FADT Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Defence Portfolio, Additional Budget Estimates 2017–2018, 28 February 2018, Question no. 33; Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2017–18: budget related paper no. 1.4A: Defence Portfolio, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2018, p. 121.

[178]. ANAO, 2017–18 major projects report, op. cit., p. 282.

[179]. A McLaughlin, ‘Sixth RAAF KC-30A arrives at Amberley’, Australian Aviation, website, 18 September 2017.

[180]. Senate FADT Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Defence Portfolio, Additional Budget Estimates 2017–2018, 28 February 2018, Question no. 32; Senate FADT Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Defence Portfolio, Additional Budget Estimates 2017–2018, 28 February 2018, Question no. 33, op. cit.

[181]. Senate FADT Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Defence Portfolio, Additional Budget Estimates 2017–2018, 28 February 2018, Question no. 35.

[182]. ANAO, 2019–20 major projects report, Audit report, 19, 2019–20, ANAO, Barton, ACT, 2019, p. 297.

[183]. Department of Defence, Schedule of Special Purpose Flights—1 July to 31 December 2019, pp. 33–9.

[184]. N Pittaway, ‘Replacing the special purpose aircraft’, Australian Defence Magazine, February 2017, p. 60.

[185]. A McLaughlin, ‘New envoys’, Australian Aviation, December 2014, p. 61.

[186]. Department of Defence, New Dassault Falcon 7X Special purpose aircraft arrive, media release, 16 April 2019.    

[187]. Department of Defence, Arrival of final Falcon 7X, media release, 7 August 2019; Department of Defence, Schedule of Special Purpose Flights: 01 July to 31 December 2019, p. 22.

[188]. N Pittaway, ‘Dassault Falcon lifts capacity for RAAF’s upgraded VIP fleet’, The Australian, 25 May 2019, p. 4.      

[189]. Ibid.

[190]. R Cotton, ‘Question: Air transport of member of parliament’, [Questioner: J Cavanagh], Senate, Debates, 19 May 1970, p. 1545.

[191]. P Nixon, ‘Answers to questions: Department of Transport aircraft—VIP use’, [Questioner: P Morris], Question 2530, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 November 1978, p. 2877; R Kelly, ‘Answers to questions: Civil Aviation Authority—Flying Unit aircraft’, [Questioner: G Prosser], Question 1771, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 May 1989, p. 3355.

[192]. M Guilfoyle, ‘Second reading speech: Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1978–79’, Senate, Debates, 30 May 1979, p. 2372.

[193]. C Jones (Minister for Transport), Australian government to buy three jet aircraft, media release, 1 March 1974.

[194]. Aussie Airliners, ‘Australian Fokker F28 Fellowship register’, website; R Willis, ‘Questions without notice: Department of Transport and Communications—sale of aircraft’, [Questioner: M Lee], House of Representatives, Debates, 7 March 1989, p. 514.

[195]. Airservices Australia, Annual report 1997–1998, Airservices Australia, Canberra, 1998, pp. 29, 59.

[196]. M Fraser, ‘Answers to questions upon notice: Charter aircraft—use by prime minister’, [Questioner: P Morris], Question 200, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 May 1978, pp. 2889–90.

[197]. S Creedy, ‘Defence caught short on charters’, The Australian, 23 October 2007, p. 5; Senate FADT Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Defence Portfolio, Budget Supplementary Estimates 2008–09, 22 October 2008, Question 5: ‘Special purpose aircraft ’.

[198]. L Oakes, ‘P.M. will “use Qantas”’, The Courier Mail, 17 November 1971; ‘PM will take 19 on his Asia tour’, The Australian, 2 June 1972.

[199]. F Cranston, ‘PM charters take cut’, The Canberra Times, 13 August 1974, p. 1; F Cranston, ‘PM’s air charter cost “over $0.5m”’, The Canberra Times, 14 November 1974, p. 9.

[200]. Remuneration Tribunal, Determination 2017/13: members of parliament—entitlements, Part 7.

[201]. G Moret, ‘South Australian MP Tony Pasin takes $5,700 charter flight’, ABC News Online, 31 October 2018; M Schliebs, ‘Rent-a-plane MPs keep costs flying’, The Australian, 10 April 2018, p. 1.

[202]. Based on analysis of the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, Parliamentarians’ expenditure reports. Analysis only assessed MPs with large area electorates and not the allowance use by approved senators.

[203]. E Ward, ‘Question: Royal Australian Air Force’, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 April 1963, p. 620.    

[204]. M Pratt, ‘Interview with David Fairbairn’ Mel Pratt collection [sound recording] in the National Library of Australia.

[205]. D Fairbairn, ‘Answer to Question in writing: use of Royal Australian Air Force aircraft’, [Questioner: E Ward], House of Representatives, Debates, 23 May 1963, pp. 1822–3.

[206]. Ibid.

[207]. C Griffiths, ‘Question: V.I.P. aircraft’, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 March 1966, pp. 663–4.

[208]. H Holt, ‘Answer to Question without notice: V.I.P. aircraft’, [Questioner: C Griffiths], House of Representatives, Debates, 29 March 1966, p. 664; NAA, ‘Use of VIP aircraft’, op. cit., p. 8.

[209]. H Holt, ‘Answer to Question in writing: Special Aircraft’, [Questioner: F Daly], House of Representatives, Debates, 13 May 1966, p. 913.  

[210]. For a detailed account of the controversy see I Hancock, The V.I.P. affair, 1966–67: the causes, course and consequences of a ministerial and public service cover-up, Australasian Study of Parliament Group, 18(2), Spring 2003, 2004.

[211]. The most recent report was tabled on 3 July 2020—see Department of Defence, Schedule of Special Purpose Flights: 01 July to 31 December 2019, op. cit.

[212]. NAA, ‘Use of VIP aircraft’, op. cit., p. 6.

[213]. G McKellar, ‘Question: VIP aircraft’, [Questioner: R Turnbull], Senate, Debates, 14 May 1969, p. 1195.

[214]. T Drake-Brockman, ‘Question: VIP aircraft’, [Questioner: F McManus], Senate, Debates, 30 September 1970, pp. 965–6.

[215]. NAA, ‘Review of RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] VIP aircraft travel rules—Decision 141’, series number A5915, pp. 1–14.

[216]. L Barnard, ‘Ministerial statement: rules for the use of VIP aircraft’, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 March 1973,
pp. 134–6.

[217]. NAA ‘Cabinet minute—use of VIP aircraft—without submission’, series number A5925, p. 1.

[218]. F Cranston, ‘Government saves in the air’, The Canberra Times, 30 January 1976, p. 3.

[219]. NAA, ‘Submission no. 1997: guidelines for the use of RAAF Special Purpose Aircraft for special purpose travel—no decision—see LC941’, series number A12909, pp. 1–16.

[220]. Department of Finance and Deregulation, Appendix: Special purpose aircraft, in Senators and members’ entitlements handbook, 2013, provided in response to Senate FADT Committee, Answers to Questions on Notice, Defence Portfolio, Supplementary Budget Estimates 2019–20, 23 October 2019, Question no. 367.


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