The RAF VIP plane used by Boris Johnson and senior members of the government to travel around the world is to have its grey livery repainted red white and blue in a makeover estimated to cost more than six figures.
The Union Jack-inspired paint job for the Voyager aircraft comes two years after the prime minister complained about the dullness of its former colour.
When foreign secretary, Johnson said: “What I will say about the Voyager, I think it’s great, but it seems to be very difficult to get hold of,” before adding: “And also, why does it have to be grey?”
Downing Street confirmed that a Johnson-inspired makeover was under way, while defence sources added that the plane is being repainted at a specialist secure hangar run by Marshall Aerospace near Cambridge.
David Cameron commissioned the £10m aircraft – dubbed “Cam Force One” – when he was prime minister but to reduce costs and deflect public criticism the plane was intended to have a dual civilian and military use.
But repainting it in the colours of the national flag suggests that it will be increasingly used for globe trotting by Johnson during the rest of his time as prime minister.
Andy Netherwood, a former RAF pilot and defence commentator, said: “The issue is project creep. If it really is an all-over shiny paint scheme then it’s starting to look – operationally and politically – much more like Air Force One for Boris.”
Currently the Voyager also provides air-to-air refuelling for other RAF planes when it is not being used by the prime minister, other senior ministers or members of the royal family, particularly for trips outside Europe.
It is based on an Airbus A330 with a first class cabin for the prime minister or leading VIP on the flight, with club class seating for business delegates and conventional economy class seating at the rear, used typically by press.
Tony Blair had planned to buy a plane towards the end of his time as prime minister, but the plans were scrapped by Gordon Brown in 2008 to save money. Ministers took scheduled flights or chartered planes if they wanted to take along a large delegation.
The scheme was revived by Cameron, although by the time he was first able to use the plane in July 2016, the prime minister was on his way out of a job as a couple of weeks before he had been defeated in the Brexit referendum and resigned.
A spokesman for the Royal Air Force said: “An RAF Voyager is currently in Cambridgeshire for pre-planned works.”