Over the last months, leaders from Canada, Germany and New Zealand were grounded after their planes endured technical difficulties during official visits.
Canadian PM Trudeau was forced to stay an extra two days in Delhi after his plane suffered a mechanical issue during the G20 in India. The Canadian leader’s visit for the summit was extended by the unexpected delay in fixing the problem with his Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) plane, as well as the failure of a replacement plane that could have brought him back earlier.
Trudeau’s 36-year-old Airbus A310 remained stationed on the tarmac in New Delhi for two days until a replacement Airbus CC-150 Polaris managed to fly him back to Canada.
In August, Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and her delegation to Abu Dhabi were forced to go back to a layover airport after the Airbus she used suffered a problem with a landing flap failing to open.
Technical issues are associated to two major reasons — using old or obsolete aircraft (a practice that is particularly common with nations under international sanctions), or a country’s economic situation or political reluctance to spend large amounts maintaining superior fleets of aircraft for their heads of state and government. However, experts say that while the cause of such incidents may vary, they can typically be traced to a lack of defence spending by the country involved.
The Germans and Canadians are using aircraft which, for commercial reasons, have already fallen out of favour globally and have been withdrawn by various users.Angad Singh, an independent defence analyst, for The Independent
It happened again.— DW Politics (@dw_politics) August 14, 2023
This time it was German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who was stuck in Abu Dhabi due to technical problems with the government plane.
This is not the first incident. Here’s a brief history of problems with Germany’s official aircraft 👇 pic.twitter.com/TXlk1rltwc
“The Germans and Canadians are using aircraft which, for commercial reasons, have already fallen out of favour globally and have been withdrawn by various users,” Angad Singh, an independent defence analyst, told The Independent. “The bulk of users of [the Airbus] 310 were very quick to ditch the aircraft the moment it was replaced by [Airbus] 330 or [Boeing] 777,” added Singh.
Formerly known as the “flying Taj Mahal”, the Airbus A310 is now only left with three of Iran’s carriers and one of Afghanistan’s carriers — and both nations face heavy sanctions, making it tough for them to upgrade to newer, wide-body aircraft. Using an outdated model limits the availability of maintenance workers who are experienced in fixing such aircraft, as well as meaning a lack of potential replacements in event of a full breakdown, he explains.
Also recently, an ageing Boeing 757 in New Zealand was backed up by the US Air Force One, a plane that can refuel in midair and act as presidential command center. After officials in the country acknowledged the plane to be prone to breakdowns, the US sent an empty backup to ensure Prime Minister Chris Hipkins didn’t get stranded in China, where he was leading a trade delegation, in June.
“If we didn’t have a backup plan and something did happen, and of course we hope it won’t, then not only would they be stranded in China, but the cost that that would incur — in terms of accommodation and trying to, at the last minute, organize some kind of plan to get them back — would outweigh having a backup aircraft waiting somewhere just in case,” said New Zealand’s acting PM Carmel Sepuloni.