The first of three Dassault Falcon 7X for the RAAF has been delivered to the Defence Establishment Fairbairn, Canberra. Aircraft A56-001 has been painted in familiar RAAF VIP fleet colours.
The aircraft is understood to be one of three being acquired for the RAAF to be used in the Special Purpose Aircraft (SPA) role on domestic and regional VIP operations, replacing the existing Bombardier CL-604 Challenger aircraft at No. 34 Sqn located in Canberra.
Two Boeing 737-BBJs are understood to have had their leases extended and will be reconfigured for regional operations.
The seventh Airbus KC-30A multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) is now undergoing completion in Europe after having had a VIP cabin installed in the forward part of the aircraft. This aircraft will fulfil the long-haul SPA transport role including a full air to air refueling capability.
The Australian government has yet to announce the lease of the Falcon 7Xs, reportedly chosen for their three-engine configuration and short-field performance. With a federal election looming it would seem unlikely that either side would wish to publicise the acquisition.
The Challengers were introduced back in 2002 and are now considered too small and too limited in range for a lot of regional tasking, particularly when operating from some Australian regional airports, which have relatively short runways.
Several events have prompted a review of the VIP fleet and has resulted in the acquisition of the Falcon jets and assessment of use of the wider fleet.
The acquisition of the three Falcon 7X aircraft dates back to November 2015, when Defence released a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking a managing contractor to provide services for the maintenance, support and replacement of the Special Purpose Aircraft (SPA) fleet.
The purpose of the RFP, which closed in February 2016, was to identify and assess the feasibility, risk, affordability, value and overall suitability of the range of available capability options and managing contractor methodologies.
Defence undertook an evaluation, and two companies were shortlisted from the RFP respondents in June 2016.
In August 2016, Defence initiated a project definition study to engage with the shortlisted respondents to collaboratively finalise contract requirements and develop a Request for Tender (RFT).
The RFT was released to the two shortlisted companies in December 2016, and in February 2017 the industry respondents tabled their tenders to Defence.
Meanwhile, Defence in 2017 exercised options that extended the SPA maintenance and support arrangement with Northrop Grumman IDS until September 2019 to align with the lease terms of the current fleet.
Defence said on Tuesday the SPA fleet would continue to be maintained by Northrop Grumman.