Controversial UK Ministerial Aircraft Livery Unveiled

An RAF A330 Voyager now wears a flamboyant color scheme marking its VIP role.
Credit: Sgt. "Matty" Matthews

LONDON—A controversial repaint of one of the British Royal Air Force’s Airbus A330 Voyager multirole tanker transport aircraft has been revealed.

The color scheme, representing a British union flag sweeping from the vertical stabilizer down the white fuselage, has been widely criticized because of its reported cost of £900,000 ($1.12 million), and the increased conspicuousness of the aircraft, which retains its military air-to-air-refueling role. 

The livery was revealed on June 25 as the aircraft emerged from the paint shop of Cambridge-based Marshall Aerospace and Defense and took off for its home base of Brize Norton.

Media reporting suggests the color scheme is the result of a request by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had called for VIP aircraft that would better represent the UK when it took senior ministers and members of the Royal Family on trips abroad. The aircraft selected for the color scheme, ZZ336, already had been fitted out with a VIP interior but until now retained the gray Royal Air Force colors worn by the Voyager fleet.

The VIP interior features an adjusted layout including 58 business-class seats and 100 standard-class seats instead of the normal 291 seats on the other RAF Voyagers. 

When not on VIP duties, the aircraft was placed on standby to support the UK’s Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon fighters should they be alerted to unidentified aircraft heading toward UK airspace, such as Russian strategic bombers.

According to the Royal Air Force, the aircraft remains “certified for its original use,” while the color scheme “will better reflect its prestige role,” said Air Commodore Simon Edwards, the RAF’s chief of staff for air mobility.

News of the livery has prompted lawmaker to submit Parliamentary questions about its high cost. Part of that cost likely stems from the fact that the Voyagers are not owned by the RAF, but operated on their behalf by the Airtanker consortium—a joint venture of Airbus, Cobham, Rolls-Royce and Thales—and the livery is a bespoke scheme. According to the UK defense ministry, the work was contracted directly with Airtanker through its Private Finance Initiative contract and had to account for the aircraft’s certification, regulatory and licensing requirements. A competitive tender was issued for the repainting work.

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.