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Germany to replace aging fleet of government planes

Jon Shelton
February 1, 2019

The Ministry of Defense has announced it plans to order one plane this year and two more in the near future. The current fleet has been plagued with technical problems, stranding government officials at home and abroad.

German Special Air Mission Airbus A340 Konrad Adenauer
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

On Friday, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced that the Ministry of Defense will be replacing its aging long-range government planes. She said the first plane would be ordered this year, with two more to follow. Germany currently has two long-range planes for government officials.

Speaking in the eastern city of Dresden, von der Leyen said, "We have to, I think everyone can see that."

'Made in Germany'

In the past four months planes from Germany's Special Air Mission, which shuttles officials to meetings around the world, have been grounded no less than six times. The most embarrassing delay came in December, when Chancellor Angela Merkel missed the opening ceremony of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires due to technical problems. The chancellor, who was forced to land in Cologne, flew to Argentina the following day on a commercial flight.

Others that have been stranded include President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Development Minister Gerd Müller. Steinmeier, who was unable to fly home from Ethiopia this week, has suffered the fate three times since November.

Müller was especially vocal about the problem, complaining that such embarrassing breakdowns were ruining Germany's reputation as a high-tech nation, he said they were damaging the "Made in Germany" brand.

Aging equipment

The Ministry of Defense now plans to purchase three new Airbus A350 planes directly from the manufacturer. The price tag for an A350 is about €180 million ($157 million). The special outfitting required for government planes — including sleeping quarters, a conference room, a security system and communications equipment — add roughly €100 million more.

Though the first plane will be ordered immediately, it may be 2022 before it can be put into use. 

The Special Air Mission's two long-range Airbus A340 jets, the "Konrad Adenauer" and "Theodor Heuss," are almost 20 years old. Speaking in Dresden, von der Leyen said: "Ultimately, there comes a point when no matter how well you maintain equipment, you are confronted with material limitations due to aging. The Cabinet is generally in agreement, and we are working hard to get these new planes."

The German Air Force says that it currently operates 14 Airbus and Bombardier planes for short-, middle-, and long-range flights. An Air Force spokesman defended the branch's record, saying: "Over the past two years we have cancelled 18 of 1,600 government flights. So we are under 2 percent."