French President Nicolas Sarkozy ‘s dream of having a presidential jet to rival Air Force One of the United States is about to come true.
“Air Sarko One,” a $241-million Airbus A330-200, has made its first test flight in Bordeaux, southwestern France.
Although not quite as big as the Boeing 747-200 that is Air Force One, the French A330-200 will be at least ten metres longer and two metres higher that the aircraft used by other European leaders.
It is due for completion by October. When fitted out, it will have a 12-man meeting room, 60 business-class seats, top-grade encrypted communications systems, a reinforced fuselage and a missile decoy system.
The French president also wanted a full-sized bathtub on the plane but was told it could pose a problem, as under heavy turbulence water may overflow and cause short circuits.
Used by airlines to carry passengers, the A330-200 can seat 253 and fly 12,500 km (7,767 miles) without refuelling.
But Mr Sarkozy’s â‚¬176 million purchase and refit of the jet from tourist airline Air CaraÃ¯bes has raised eyebrows as the winds of austerity blow through Europe and other leaders are reining in their perks.
However, according to an article in the Telegraph, the French government denies that the plane is an extravagance.
“There is nothing ostentatious, simply a desire to have equipment fitting for the world’s fifth power,” said Luc Chatel, the government spokesman.