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Trudeau to fly on new government Airbus plane for its inaugural international flight

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hoping for a smooth flight when he boards a new Airbus A330 aircraft to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in San Francisco Wednesday.

The A330 is part of a group of nine Airbus planes that will replace Canada’s aging Polaris fleet, which has caused numerous travel headaches for Trudeau over the years, including most recently at the G20 Summit in India.

The new fleet, which cost $3.6 billion, is called the CC-330 Husky and includes four new aircraft as well as five used planes purchased from a company in Kuwait. At least one plane will be used to carry VIPs, while the others will be used for military transport and air-to-air refueling of NATO aircraft, including fighter jets.

Pilots with the Royal Canadian Air Force have been training to fly the new aircraft in the United Kingdom since the beginning of the year. Two of the planes were delivered to Canada over the summer, and one of them took off on its inaugural international flight transporting Trudeau and other VIPs to the APEC Leaders' Summit.

The new wide body Airbus is bigger and can carry 80 more passengers than the Polaris plane it is replacing. It can also travel 3,000 kilometres further without having to stop to refuel.

The Polaris planes were built in the late 1980s before being acquired by the federal government in 1992. The fleet's lifespan is scheduled to expire in 2027.

While the previous Polaris plane had a private cabin for the prime minister, the main section for the other passengers, including ministers, their staff and reporters, can best be described as utilitarian.

The power source for laptops and phones came from extension cables that were duct taped to the floor and ran the length of the cabin. Some armrests still had ashtray compartments. For entertainment, passengers could watch a movie from a television mounted on a panel in front of the first row of seats or focus on two other monitors that dropped down from the ceiling.

The new Airbus has seat-back entertainment and USB ports built into the console. Gone are the extension cables that lined the floor of the Polaris.

The VIP plane does not appear to be configured yet for a private section for the prime minister.

It looks like a standard Airbus with first-class, business-class and economy-class cabins.

(Judy Trinh / CTV National News)

Other than the aesthetics, the aging Polaris fleet has been plagued with problems since Trudeau became prime minister. Most recently the plane broke down during September's G20 Summit in India and the Canadian delegation had to wait two days for a replacement part to arrive.

In 2016, the aircraft returned to Ottawa 30 minutes after taking off, delaying Trudeau’s visit to Belgium to sign the Canada-Europe free trade deal.

(Judy Trinh / CTV National News)

Three years later, the VIP plane rolled into a wall, smashing its nose and right engine while it was being towed into a hangar at 8 Wing Trenton. The plane was out of commission for several months, forcing Trudeau to use a backup aircraft to attend the 2019 NATO Summit, which had its own share of engine problems.

With files from CTV National News Parliamentary Bureau Reporter Annie Bergeron-Oliver and The Canadian Press 

The Royal Canadian Air Force's new CC-330s (Airbus A330-200) is seen on the tarmac at the Ottawa International Airport in Ottawa on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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