Scott Morrison flight from Canberra to Sydney: Inside the RAAF's Falcon 7X private jet

News broke on Monday afternoon that a group of enthusiastic plane spotters had discovered that one of the Royal Australian Air Force's private jets had made a flight from Canberra to Sydney on Friday.

The plane, registration A56-003, returned to Sydney from Canberra on Monday morning before flying back to the national capital less than two hours later, flight radar websites showed.

It turns out Prime Minister Scott Morrison was on board, returning home to Sydney for the weekend (which happened to be Father's Day) before returning to Canberra, under a travel exemption from the ACT's chief health officer, on Monday.

There was predictable outrage, particularly from those in NSW and Victoria who are currently enduring lockdowns and were unable to see their own families on Father's Day.

Adding insult to injury was the use of a private jet for the flights, which cost taxpayers more than $2000 each way.

While the US President's Air Force One is probably the world's most famous government plane, most Australians know little about the private planes that ferry our leaders about.

In this case, the plane is a Dassault Falcon 7X, which was acquired by the RAAF in 2019. The French-built plane can carry up to 14 passengers and reach speeds of Mach 0.9 (1111 km/h). There are typically two pilots on board and a cabin attendant. The 7X is priced at more than $US50 million ($67 million), though the RAAF has leased its three jets, not purchased them. 

The plane's range is up to 11,000 kilometres - enough to fly the distance from Canberra to Sydney 46 times.

According to the RAAF, the 7X's Pratt & Whitney PW307A engines represent a major capability leap from those of its predecessor, the smaller Bombardier CL-604, while the plane's other features include a "high-tech wing, an advanced 'glass cockpit' with a heads-up display and an infrared enhanced vision system".

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The first Falcon 7X entered service in 2007 and, according to the manufacturers, Dassault Aviation, there are now more than 270 Falcon 7X jets in operation in 41 countries around the world.

The 7X is a trijet - an aircraft with three rear-mounted engines. These are increasingly rare, since they are less fuel efficient than twin-engine planes (almost all commercial airliners are now twin engine, with the exception of the Airbus A380 superjumbo and the Boeing 747 jumbo jet - the latter is largely being phased out by airlines including Qantas).

In fact, Dassault's Falcon jets are currently the only trijets still in production. Trijets remain popular for private planes as they can take off from short runways and are not limited by ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operations Performance Standards) - the safety rules that prevent twin engine planes from flying routes that go too far from a diversion airport, which can limit routes over large bodies of water or via the poles.

See also: Why airlines no longer use rear-engine planes

AAF Wing Commander Jason Pont cited these features when the first Falcon 7X arrived.

"The aircraft can fly from Canberra to anywhere in the world with only one stop. Its ability to land at almost any airfield provides notable regional and remote airfield accessibility," he said.

We don't know much about what goes on aboard the RAAF's 7X jets, but we do know that passengers get "VIP service".

In March this year the Department of Defence reported on four RAAF graduates completing their training to serve as crew on board the 7X.

"Due to the physical size of the aircraft, crew attendants have to be extremely organised to operate in the confined galley and agile enough to provide an exemplary VIP service in the main cabin regardless of the weather conditions," Wing Commander Pont said at the time.

"From here, these four graduates will now further develop their skills and efficiencies on VIP tasks for government officials, as well as members of the Defence senior leadership team."

The RAAF also operates two much larger Boeing 737 business jets which can carry up to 30 passengers.

See also: The luxury presidential Dreamliner no one wants to buy

See also: Qatar Airways shows off world's first $102 million G700 luxury jet

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