The queen has 'one hell of an airplane'
The Dutch government aircraft, KBX, has been completely overhauled. The job cost nearly three years and 4.3 million euros to complete.
In March 2008, a VIP aircraft cabin of sorts was constructed in the Royal
Stables. Three types of chairs were delivered to the building, which lies
adjacent to the queen's residential palace in The Hague, allowing her
majesty to choose whichever she found most comfortable. The selected chairs
were then installed in the government aircraft that bears her name: KBX, a
Dutch acronym for queen Beatrix.
4.3 million euros
The year before, the Dutch traffic ministry had decided this government aircraft could do with some major maintenance. The lighting, interior and on-board entertainment had become obsolete after 12 years of use, a ministry official then stated. Security also needed improvement. After a tune-up and a reorganisation of its interior, the plane, a Fokker Executive Jet 70, able to seat 24 passengers, would be good for at least another seven years. Total cost: 4.3 million euros, 800,000 more than originally budgeted for.
This massive expenditure comes at a time when the royal family is expected to be flying less than it once was. The budget for private air travel is to be reduced from the current 610,000 euros to 305,000 euros next year. From now on, the aircraft will only be available for private use to the Queen, heir apparent prince Willem Alexander and his wife Maxima, and no longer to the 14 other members of the royal family.
The KBX's revision was a complicated operation, NRC Handelsblad learned after filing a freedom of information request. Ever since the traffic minister decided it was time for a major tune-up early in 2007, three years of tendered contracts, test set-ups, adaptations and delays have gone past. The plane wasn't ready for use again until October 14 of last year.
Ministers, deputy ministers and members of the royal family are allowed to use the plane. Before it underwent the overhaul, the queen was able to state her wishes, and, through her, other members of the royal family as well. The files do not show exactly what her wishes were, but some adaptations were obviously intended for use by the queen and her family, such as alterations to the on-board dressing room.
Even though the prime minister is also allowed to use the KBX, the queen has priority if both wish to use it simultaneously for official purposes, as do other members of the royal family. The prime minister isn't even allowed to use the aircraft for private purposes.
Gaming consoles and email
So what were the 4.3 million euros used to revise the KBX spent on exactly? Apart from new chairs and flooring for the VIP section, the on-board entertainment system was outfitted with internet and e-mail facilities. Different types of gaming consoles can also be hooked up to the system.
Nothing was overlooked, correspondence between the ministry and its contractor, the British Mann Aviation Group (MAGE) shows. An email dated March 3, 2009, shows that a ministry official wanted to replace the carpet in the tail section of the plane with linoleum. The toilet, apparently, was prone to flooding. "And then wet carpet is much worse than wet linoleum," the official wrote. He concludes his email by writing: "We are gonna have one hell of an airplane."
The chairs in the KBX's VIP section can be converted into beds, but apparently these weren't comfortable enough. Early in 2009, six custom-made air mattresses were ordered for use in the chairs. One was a gift, courtesy of the maker, the others cost 8,535 all together.
The traffic ministry bought the surplus of the custom-made upholstery used on the airplane's seats: 14,500 euros worth of Jacquard Weave fabric. It did the same when the plane was last revised. This allows the ministry to replace the upholstery itself, something normally done every six months.
The files also show that "at the client's request" a test set-up of the cabin was expanded. A few light bulbs proved insufficient to judge the effects new lighting would have on the plane's interior. A complete plan for lighting was drawn up and built in the mock cabin in the Royal Stables.
Total costs of the set-up: 103,317.64 euros, of which 21,429.91 were incurred due to adaptations at the client's behest, according to MAGE. The aircraft has also been equipped with a so-called FlightVu Defender system: cameras on and in the aircraft can now transmit live images to security forces on the ground. After landing, the system allows for constant monitoring of all entrances and loading bays.
The royal family's expensive private use of the KBX became the stuff of parliamentary debate in October of last year. Many parliamentarians feared it would be used for holidays to far-flung locations. But the plane isn't suitable at all for longer journeys: its maximum range is 1,900 kilometres. When the queen visited Australia in 2006, the aircraft itself had to be flown in.