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28 November 2021

Opinion from Adrian Leopard & Co

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Queen’s planes to be sold off – what is reasonable to keep for a modern day head of state?
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Queen’s planes to be sold off – what is reasonable to keep for a modern day head of state?

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It is important to keep things in realistic proportion. Times are a’changin’

Going back centuries, the country’s wealth was more or less all held by the Crown and the aristocracy. The ordinary people by and large had nothing.

As the years have moved forward, things have changed and the upper classes have increased their wealth and in the last century the political tide changed completely and now everyone is able to hold money and property. Of course, it is often said that the “poor will always be with us”. Perhaps today poverty is created by a competitive society where there is not enough for everyone to be wealthy so the poor are essentially the ones unable to seize opportunities and make something of them. Conversely it is amazing to see today some of the wealthiest people were once just “ordinary people” who had good ideas.

Of course royal wealth was “something else” in days gone by. The Queen of Sheba is said to have gone to visit King Solomon’s new temple “with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones”. She must have been a very generous as well as a very rich lady! One can only wonder what the value of her gifts was in today’s money, that is if the legend is actually true and there does seem to be an element of doubt about it.

If you fancy learning more about this remarkable Ethiopian lady you could do worse than take a peek at the Wikipedia account of her here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_of_Sheba

However this is not the main topic of today’s article; what is is that it has been announced that the Queen’s fleet of aircraft which includes four BAE-146 passenger jets will be withdrawn next year. These aircraft are part of the Royal Air Force and the decommissioning of these aircraft without replacement represent cuts in the defence budget. The Queen for the first time in her reign will not have a dedicated aircraft available to her. Those who have flown in a BAE-146 will no doubt remember that they are a very comfortable and fast jet but unfortunately like all “elder statesmen”, they are sadly no longer economical to run when compared with other suitable aircraft.

It is of course reminiscent of the de-commissioning of the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1997. This vessel accomplished a huge mileage around the world with the Queen on board and of course it enabled her to carry out a great amount of entertaining when in foreign ports. All that of course is now a thing of the past. Indeed the millennials will in the main know nothing about it!

A year ago the Prime Minister procured the spending of some £900000 on an Airbus Voyager which is part of 10 Squadron’s fleet, having it painted up with some rather “lively” livery to identify it from the rest, basically so it could be used as a VIP transport. This aircraft can of course be used by the royal family – indeed they are already using these aircraft for long haul flights. Perhaps the re-painting of the aircraft in question was done in advance so that it would all be in place for the Queen in due course.

What the whole issue does raise is what is appropriate for a head of state in terms of dedicated transport and proportionality with the economy and other factors? We still have, for example, a royal train. This is owned by Network Rail and in fact is not used very often so perhaps it is simply a waste of public money or perhaps if it is special then members of the public would pay more to use it. In other words, let’s see some cash earned from this asset.

The most notable dedicated transport in the world must surely be Airforce 1, an aircraft so filled with every possible gadget that it is eye-wateringly expensive, not just to buy but also to run. And then when the President of the United States uses it, it is packed with people doing all sorts of high level jobs. Even more extraordinary is that there are two of them, more or less identical. The financial burden for the United States must be enormous. Is it really justified? As we know it is only known as Airforce 1 when the president is on board.

So we come back to it, what would be justified for the UK? Interestingly the RAF’s voyagers are operated by Air Tanker Ltd, a private company and flown by their own civilian crews. They have both civilian and military registrations and are available for charter or lease for commercial use. How eminently sensible! Of course it must also be noted that there is a royal protocol which says that two heirs to the throne cannot travel together. Why not? Well if there is a crash then they could both be killed and this would have a disturbing effect on the royal line.

Rather than take the view that the Queen has lost her fleet of aircraft, surely she has the “run of the entire fleet” if she needs a ride. What is important is that our monarch and other VIPs are able to travel in suitable comfort and security and give the right impression when they arrive at their destinations. The idea of special transport coming out of mothballs only when it is needed is surely an anachronism today? There will always be a nice aircraft available to provide suitable transport.

Adrian Leopard 06-03-21

Photo Chris Leipelt

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