An image of an A321 aircraft with a livery similar to that used on the Voyager aircraft used by the Royal Air Force to transport senior Government ministers and members of the Royal Family has surfaced online.

The A321 pictured below appears to be replacing the BAE146 aircraft in use for the role currently.

The freshly painted A321, apparently taking over the transport of senior officials and members of the Royal family from 32 Squadron, is operated by Titan Airways.

Compare this to the current ‘VIP Voyager’ used to transport senior officials.

Image Crown Copyright 2020.

Very similar, no?

It was confirmed last year that replacements for 32 (The Royal) Squadron BAE 146 aircraft were being considered.

Gareth Thomas, Member of Parliament for Harrow West, asked via a written question:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, when the four BAe 146 aircraft based at RAF Northolt will be retired from service; when replacements for those aircraft will be procured; how many such replacements will be procured; how much funding from the public purse has been allocated to replacing those aircraft; and whether the RAF Voyager ZZ336 will be used for short haul trips previously undertaken by those aircraft.”

James Heappey, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, responded:

“The current fleet of four BAe 146 aircraft are planned to be retired from Service on 31 March 2022. Replacements for those aircraft are currently under consideration as part of normal capability planning. The fleet of 14 Voyager will continue to support the collective Air Transport task including VIP and Command Support Air Transport tasking.”

Last year, we reported that the future of 32 (The Royal) Squadron was left in doubt when it was revealed that the RAF was looking to sell off its BAE 146 transport fleet. The aircraft primarily used to transport the Royal Family and other VIPs.

It was rumoured that the BAE 146 transport fleet will be replaced with “Global 5000 series aircraft or similar”. This appears to no longer be the case.

In June last year, the Royal Air Force described the VIP Voyager, otherwise known as ‘Vespina’ in the following way:

“The smart new paint scheme will promote the UK around the world while transporting Ministers, senior members of the Royal Family and their delegations on trade, diplomatic and other missions. After weeks of work, the Voyager returned to RAF Brize Norton where it will operate alongside the rest of the RAF Voyager fleet. Alongside its VIP Role, the aircraft remains certified for its original use, including Air-to-Air Refuelling and personnel transport. It can fly from and to almost any airport across the world that can take an Airbus A330, and its range allows it to reach much of the world without costly and time-consuming refuelling.”

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I’ve always thought that an A321 was a much more appropriate aircraft for official government use than a huge A330. Having spent millions on a paint job will the voyager return to 50 shades of grey, or will it be kept in for Boris to show off in?


On a bright side, i suspect most of the millions spent went to the designers rather than the actual paint, which means at least we get more use out of the design, assuming they didnt’ agree a stupid deal where they pay each time its used.

Robert Blay.

Painting the aircraft, regardless of colour, is already covered as part of the airtanker contract. So it hasn’t cost anymore than painting it grey.

Jim Pritchard

We didn’t spend “millions” on a paint job. The repainting was done during a major inspection, and needed doing anyway. They just used a different coloured paint.


Who actually owns the A330 Voyagers in use by the RAF. I know there is some PFI contract on them that everyone complains about but I guarantee that’s why we are purchasing the A321. The foreign office or whoever was footing the bill probably gasped when they saw the costed they where being billed to transport government ministers. Pity they didn’t check the cost before spending a fortune respraying it. Agreed the A321 is a much more appropriate size.

Robert Blay.

Painting the aircraft grey or in the union jack colours are already part of the airtanker contract. All aircraft need to be painted.


Airtanker (who own the Voyagers) is a consortium between Airbus, Rolls Royce, Cobham, Babcock and Thales. Personally, I don’t see any problem having both Voyager and the new A321. They have different mission profiles (i.e. payload/range/efficiency) so the most cost effective aircraft can be used for each trip accordingly. As others have said many countries seriously splash the cash on VIP transport so I think the new UK approach is actually quite sensible. We get a flexible and presentable VIP fleet at a lower cost. Others around the world won’t know or care how it’s operated. I agree the PFI… Read more »

Last edited 1 hour ago by Sonik

The A330 Was the VIP aircraft the £800.000 contract was the procurement of the vip fit out and the service cost and paint. due you not look past the bitter Shadow Ministers for news. £800k was added to the RAF Budget to cover the costs. considering the RAF JUST ISSUED AN ORDER FOR £1.2M for a 70 year old bomber. BUT THAT GOES UN-NOTICED BY THE SHADOW MINISTERS….


Learn to control your emotions….it is a sign of adulthood!


The German Govt bought 4 A350’s for VIP transport. I don’t get why the UK are fussing over one VIP A330!

Last edited 4 hours ago by KiwiRob

We are British, complaining is a national sport!


It always amazes me, all around the world what ever the state of public finances or the defence situation the priority is always a nice shiny vip aircraft to show off in a few times a year.


The aircraft is used on a daily basis as a tanker / transport. It’s just painted a different colour.

James Fennell

That criticism can’t be levelled at UK. The current fleet of crocks are 30-40 years old.


Well how much have we spent converting a voyager? And all we get told is that we have to make tough choices now with the financial situation


Wasn’t it established that the RAF do not own the voyagers and the owners fund maintenance and repairs, and presumably the paint job too.


Some would look at it another way, aviation industry has taken a real hit. Pushing a few bucks their way to do government work is better than getting nought from furloughed workers.

Last edited 4 days ago by expat
Mark B

It might have been a few times a year when all our trade deals etc. were being done by the EU however once we are free of Covid I would want to see ministers, diplomats and the Royal family out and about quite a bit earning their wage. I’m actually guessing it will be cheaper than flying BA.

Sean Crowley

Have you ever seen these things in use ? The majority of people traveling are press and sundry of private staff : governance it seems from my experience involves more logistical tail than barking mouth .


I’m just being cynical at a time when we cant afford to fully man the army we can afford a new vip plane.
I know the money is a drop in the ocean but as i said nations all around the world can always find the money for one no matter the situation.


What does this mean for the handful of 146s converted to cargo variants I wonder?

James Fennell

The two ex-TNT freighters are over 30 years old, a UOR. They need to go.


Seems to not have the A-330 pod

Chris Jones

This is just a bog standard commercial airliner, not a tanker like the ‘other’ one.

Supportive Bloke

Now was the time to snap up good aircraft cheap. This makes sense and will, relatively speaking, have cost peanuts. Will be cheaper to run as it is an in service commercial airliner. I’d never describe a 146 as relaxing to fly in! Increases the number of deployable A330 as well. Operation hair-shirt is all very well but if you have ever been sent all over the world to negotiate something for someone you realise very rapidly how much rest and privacy mean. In government case secure comms are also a must. Things like getting rid of Britannia and bigger… Read more »

Geoffrey Roach

…and if it helps out the seller at the moment even better.

Andy P

People are swayed by prestige and that is where trophies like flash embassies are vital “

That’s certainly the logic that is used to justify all the trappings. They have their place of course but colour me cynical that people are very good at justifying to themselves why THEY should have all the shiny stuff.

James M

It’s also cheaper than chartering. The VIP A330 worked out at something like half the cost per hour of a BA charter. An A321 will probably be cheaper than an A330 (assuming it’s kept at civvy standards and general maintenance is contracted out) and can fly in to smaller airports too.

It does make financial sense.


I agree – if HMG were contracting out military transport everybody would be complaining about cuts!

Liveried VIP transport is no different to RN ‘flying the flag’ so IMO it’s needed and the new arrangement is a sensible way to do it.

Last edited 45 minutes ago by Sonik
Daniele Mandelli

Agree. Why is it fine for others to have them but not us?

Gov ministers and the Queen require transport.

Good news.

M Cussell

If going to talk about an (new ?) A321 to be used by the RAF for Royal and VIP flights, don’t use a picture of an A330 ZZ336 ! Different aircraft and company (Airtanker) operating it for the RAF !!!

Alba Airborne

As with ZZ336, tacky.
Always thought a ‘retro’ RAF Transport Command scheme would have been far more fitting and suitable.
HM would be as well flying EasyJet.
The aircraft type though is correct, the 146’s are more expensive an hour than a Voyager.

Chris Jones

What’s tacky about it? The flag?

Chris Jones

Oops posted too soon, I intended to follow up by saying, we’re not the only country to include their flag on the tail.


I am going to risk being shouted at here, but wouldn’t it be better to activate some of the additional voyager capacity we have in the contract and increase the air refuelling fleet. unless we have picked this plane up at a silly price, say £20-30m. We would probably be better off buying some new bombardier exec jets that are built in Belfast. At the end of the day the VIP fit out of the voyagers is very good and I believe palletised, it just gives us a bit more flexibility.. I do think Boris should have a Merlin for… Read more »

Supportive Bloke

Merlin is an expensive beast to operate.

It would be cheaper to buy/lease a commercial VIP chopper as the Palace has already done.


But it does have the size for security, aides etc to go with him…

Supportive Bloke

All true but

a) Merlin isn’t in production.

b) There are no flyable spares that I’m aware of

c) was there ever a VIP conversion of it?

There is also the issue of defensive aids suite that would be standard fit in a merlin.


First two points are valid and, I too, do not believe that a Merlin should be set aside for VIP transport. But in answer to your third point, for years it was decided that the US would replace their sea kings and black hawks in the marine one role for transporting the President and his staff with a Merlin derivative. This was eventually cancelled by Obama due to cost overruns but the project got pretty far.
Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel – Wikipedia

Paul T

Oops sorry Specsavers Moment !.

Paul T

The VH-71 Kestrel is about as close as you can get.

John Hartley

I think Saudi Arabia had a VVIP Merlin. There is a photo of it at Yeovil being serviced.


The Merlin is very much still in production, the current customers being Norway, Poland and Italy.. all off the production line in Yeovil, Somerset.


I think Boris would like a helicopter that is reliably available. Merlin is not that.

A civvy type would be vastly more sensible.

Alba Airborne

There should be funding from the increased budget to better ability, in the case of the Voyagers that should be a boom on at least the core fleet for the C17, P8 and AirSeeker.
For a helo, there are not enough Merlin as is, AW189 as part a buy to replace Puma.


The problem with boom refueling is it would be a whole new capability with associated training & maintenance burden, so not at all cheap to keep up. Currently we rely on allies for boom refueling which is fine on NATO ops. My guess is that in the unlikely event the need ever arises in a crisis for a sovereign capability, it would be cheaper and quicker to rig probe refueling on the SIGINT/MPA assets. We have the ability to do that with contractors like Marshall Aerospace. C17 is probably ok for most places on range already because unlike the patrol… Read more »


According to a plane spotter type the aircraft pictured is an A321neo and was only delivered last October to Titan!
It appears to be leased from Titan, not purchased!

Last edited 5 days ago by Herodotus

Nothings too good for the Royals. lol

Daniele Mandelli

Considering POTUS has 2 AF1’s and a fleet of supporting assets, you’d hope someone like our Queen would have proper transport with all security precautions, not a cheap ticket on Easy Jet.


Indeed… one gets more ‘avian bling’ than POTUS! Aluminium Cahonies!


Makes sense, the use of an expensive tanker fitted aurcraft for VIP makes absolutely no sense, especially as the weight of the business fit compromised the tanker aspect. A330 probably a bit too much aeroplane, and Air Tanker a pita about going to new places so having a “go anywhere” A321 outside their very restrictive world is a no-brainer.

GX sounds a good idea but they’d be a better replacement for the (now gone) 125s, and in fact would be overkill – lots of more affordable bizjet options.

John Hartley

If you go to an aircraft sale site like Globalair, you can find near new aircraft just right for 32 sqn. A 2019 Global 6500 for long range work. A 2018 Challenger 350 & a 2016 Challeger 650, both around $16.9m each. Or how about a 2018 Phenom 100EV (already in RAF service for training). They cost $4.5m new, so 3 year old should be much cheaper. It seems crazy to use an Airbus to send one or two people a few hundred miles, or a document to or from Brussels.

Mark F

I’ve read somewhere it looks rather like the sort of paint scheme Austin Powers would use.


I think, not for the first time, people are running away from the narrative of the article here. I don’t think this A321 is supposed to replace the VIP Voyager but to augment it. The A321 is set to replace the four BAe146 aircraft. In normal times the Voyager is kept very busy doing its ‘day job’ but needs to be available for long distance and ‘prestige’ VIP visits. The A321 will be used for more regular short haul-haul transportation and will no doubt be kept very busy. For those people complaining about ‘prestige’ and cost they need to remember… Read more »


There’s another clearer image here

it looks like G-XATW – previously planned to be a wet lease to Four Seasons as per simple flying

Uninformed Civvy Lurker

There is apparently a second one G-GBNI (Great Britain and NI ?) being painted up in the same livery.

No RAF serials or decals as they both will not be RAF aircraft and leased with crew, maintenance, etc from Titan and be based at Stansted.


Titan do lots of VIP charter so there is every possibility that the new A/C will be used by others as part of the Titan fleet and will just be paid per hour when used by HMG. Sensible solution IMO.


It seems that future of vip aircraft in uk , is not military transport.
With the Royal flight 146 s being sold , it seems that the next aircraft for the Royals and PM will be from commercial operators under contract .
This is probably the best cost affective option but they will not have a security package or military trained pilots .


Need to understand the UK 1 OR Bojo 1 Whatever you wanted to call it, the £800k contract was a cost agreed with the RAF, and was set against the costs of running the BA146 which then moved to covid relief, COSTs per mile for a 146 was higher than a A330, and the collapse of THOMAS COOK, who were renting the surge fleet. A330 is a large heavy aircraft, and Transporting the Queen short distances was never a long option. Bone Yards are full of nearly used aircraft with low hours, so why not but the leading contendor was… Read more »


Thomas Cook only had one A330 from Airtanker.

Most of the Voyager surge fleet is leased to Jet2, an airline that probably not incoincidentally has a number of ex RAF personnel in the management team, including the CEO. Don’t see this as a problem TBH, they are paying for the upkeep.

Also there is really a shortage of single aisle civil aircraft due to 737 Max crisis.

Last edited 2 hours ago by Sonik