UK Royal Air Force Begins Hunt For VIP Business Jets

Challenger 650
Credit: Bombardier

LONDON–The UK Royal Air Force has begun a search for new VIP aircraft to replace its BAe 146s. 

The air arm is budgeting £30 million ($41.7 million) for the purchase of a pair of secondhand business jets with a target range of 3,500 nm and capable of carrying eight passengers, a request for information issued by the Ministry of Defense has revealed. 

The business jets would be charged with the Command Support Air Transport (CSAT) performing VIP and general air transport missions for senior military officers. The document says the secondhand aircraft should be less than five years old and flown fewer than 3,000 hr. 

The solicitation to industry appears to suggest the RAF would like to introduce the new aircraft as early as March 2023 and no later than September of that year. It is also considering operating the aircraft on the civilian aircraft registry first. But the aim appears to be to transfer the selected aircraft to the military registry so they can be equipped with military equipment. This would include infrared countermeasures and identification friend or foe Mode 5 transponders.  

Platforms that could fit the bill include Bombardier’s Challenger 650, the Cessna Citation Longitude, the Dassault Falcon 2000 and the Embraer Praetor 500/600 series aircraft. 

Sources told Aerospace DAILY that the limited budget for procurement could be a hindrance. Prices for secondhand business jets have increased, prompted by a demand for private flying because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The RAF currently operates a fleet of four Bae 146s in two versions. Two of the aircraft, designated Mk.2s, are -100 series and equipped with a VIP interior for the transport of government ministers and senior officers.  

The other two aircraft, designated Mk.3 models, are converted -200 Quiet Traders. They are equipped with a cargo door and floor which were purchased second hand and converted into a combi configuration to carry passengers and cargo.  

All four 146s were slated for retirement in the Integrated Review of Defense, Development, and Foreign Policy along with several other types. They include the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules and BAe Hawk jet trainer.

Part of the CSAT mission to carry government ministers has been taken on by Titan Airways using an Airbus A321neo through a controversial £75 million, five-year contract. Details finally emerged after Freedom of Information Act requests to the government’s Cabinet Office. 

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.


1 Comment
The Bae-146 serves with No 32 (The Royal) Squadron and supports airlift for senior members of the Royal Family. I think the proposed aircraft will do that task, not only ‘government ministers and senior officers.’ Or will Queen Elizabeth II be obliged to take the Royal Train!