UK version of Air Force One would boost our profile
PUBLISHED: 21:39 13 June 2019 | UPDATED: 21:39 13 June 2019
Copyright © 2018 Celia Bartlett Photography. All rights reserved.
Where is the UK's version of Air Force One? Nick Conrad thinks if we had one it would look much better when our heads of state arrive abroad
My friend Jo, gushing with excitement last week about how a shopping trip to Winchester was interrupted by an impromptu plane spotting session. Circling in the skies above was President Trump, readying to land on the south coast for the D-Day commemorations. Jo has worked in politics for many years, met many senior ministers, secretaries of state and prime minister.. she's rarely star struck. But one glimpse of that world famous Boeing 747 sent her giddy with excitement. My editor Tim had the same reaction when he caught a glimpse of Trump's plane while at Stansted last week.
Air Force One along with Marine One and 'The Beast' are brands in their own right. They are the 'holy-trinity of travel' and always draw a crowd. Are we missing a trick here? Worse - did we get it wrong when we decommissioned The Royal Yacht? Alas, I think we did. I understand the outcry over the cost. The luxurious travel of ministers and the Royals would hit the public purse but let's be honest, stepping off a budget airline might not be the best way to start trade deals. The government has at least recognised this, investing in a new aircraft. More on that towards the end of the column!
The truth is the Royal Yacht Britannia made more money than it drained. State banquets at Buckingham Palace injects pomp, paving the way for lucrative trade deals. 'Brand Britain' is a strong and seductive force. Other countries seem to understand this much better than we do.
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I've never understood why, even in austerity Britain, we delight in sending our leaders around the world on the cheap. As the other G8 nations touch down, feeling fresh in their comfortable business cabins, the frazzled UK delegation is trying to wrestle bags off the public carousel. When putting together the itinerary for foreign trips Whitehall mandarins sharpen their pencil to reduce the costs, fearful of the public's reaction if the figures are exposed. Is the negative public reaction fuelled by jealousy? Maybe it's the perpetual dislike of politicians? Either way it is counterproductive. We need a bit of the glitz and glitter back.
Just imagine the hype as the British delegation sails off around the world on the Royal Yacht. A magical night on-board with sumptuous roast-rib suppers washed down with English wines would surely entice foreign dignitaries into signing up to favourable terms. It's what we used to do so well. The quaint, majestic, quintessential British customs are a major winner overseas. Why else did the whole Trump family embark on a mini-family vacation to London? The display sought to project the Trumps as goodwill ambassadors for the United States. The globally respected backdrop of the Royal Palace, along with our wonderful Queen, was all the PR they needed. We need to sweat our assets!
Now we must not forget the aforementioned 'Cam-Force-One,' named after former PM David who signed off on the deal. This RAF jet provides VIP transport for government ministers and the Royal Family. But, frugally, this jet has a dual purpose. The aircraft has been fitted with 58 business seats but will still be able to carry out its main task on air-to-air refuelling missions.
The Ministry of Defence claims the new seating would allow the aircraft, based at RAF Brize Norton, to transport large business delegations around the world. The whole project cost £10million pounds. Shocked and outraged by this figure? However, this option actually offers the taxpayer a saving of £775,000 a year over the cost of private charters.
If you wish to step aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia she is berthed in Edinburgh. Now reduced to a museum and tearoom, with audio tours. I can't help but think, as our country attempts to chart a safe course through troubled waters, this asset might have helped secure a smoother passage.