Who says crime doesn’t pay?
The former prime minister has taken to criss-crossing the globe in a bespoke aircraft that comes complete with state room, lounge, kitchen and crew.
Precisely how frequently he uses the Bombardier Global Express is hard to discern, since flight records are kept secret. But certainly for the past month it has been Mr Blair’s preferred mode of travel.
“Blair Force One”
The jet, which comes with a distinctive black, gold and silver livery, is a prized find for plane spotters, who post sightings and photographs on the internet. It is reckoned among aviation experts to be the best long-range private jet on the market.
Mr Blair, 60, has been seen disembarking from the plane on three occasions this year, in Bangkok, Sardinia and New York state. The plane has also been spotted in Switzerland, Ukraine and Israel on dates that coincided with visits from Mr Blair.
The plane’s owner is an unnamed businessman but Mr Blair has begun chartering it on a regular basis at an estimated cost of £7,000 for every hour it is in the air.
The aircraft can fly for 13 hours non-stop and has a range of about 7,000 miles. A single charter journey in the plane from London to Bangkok – where Mr Blair gave a speech in September – would cost in the region of £90,000.
On Sept 20, the plane was tracked departing Ukraine at 10.30pm UK time on its way to London, a 1,700-mile journey. Mr Blair had spoken earlier that day at a conference in Yalta arranged by Victor Pinchuk, a billionaire businessman and friend.
On Sept 2, Mr Blair gave a speech in Bangkok at a one-day conference on reconciliation. His arrival was greeted with protests over claims – subsequently denied – that he was being paid £400,000 by the Thai government to attend.
A plane-spotting internet forum noted the presence of the Global Express at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International airport on Sept 1 and its departure at 8am local time on Sept 3.
The plane-spotter noted with some acerbity: “The Globex transported God’s self-appointed representative on earth, HRH Tony Bliar, correction Blair.”
The plane was spotted a few days earlier in the Adirondacks in upstate New York on Aug 26 and 27. The local newspaper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, reported that Mr Blair had flown into Adirondack Regional Airport.
It reported: “Several people there in Lake Clear recognised him as he disembarked from a large black private plane decorated with gold and silver stripes.”
An airport worker told the newspaper: “We saw it was him with our own eyes.”
The plane landed on Monday Aug 26 and departed the next day, according to the newspaper.
A day earlier, on Sunday Aug 25, Mr Blair was photographed disembarking from the Global Express in Sardinia in the Mediterranean.
He had arrived from St Tropez where he had been reportedly hosted on a number of “super yachts”.
It appears that from Sardinia he flew direct to the Adirondacks, a distance of about 4,300 miles and a flying time of about eight hours. The flight will have cost in the region of £60,000.
The plane was also spotted at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on June 18. Mr Blair, who is a Middle East peace envoy, was in Jerusalem at the same time speaking at the annual Israeli Presidential Conference.
There is no certainty that he travelled to Israel on the jet and the two events may be a coincidence. The jet was also pictured on the runway at Zurich International Airport in Switzerland on Jan 22 – coincidentally when Mr Blair was in the country for the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The event is attended by political and business leaders and it is conceivable that on that trip the plane was chartered by someone other than Mr Blair.
In office, Mr Blair’s government had considered plans for a prime ministerial jet – which had been dubbed Blair Force One – but the proposal was shelved on cost grounds.
Out of office since 2007, Mr Blair has enjoyed the use of private jets – albeit attracting criticism for flying in planes occasionally lent by dictators.
The Sunday Telegraph has previously disclosed how Colonel Gaddafi of Libya flew Mr Blair to Tripoli on at least two occasions in 2008 and 2009 on private jets, before his overthrow.
Mr Blair has also been given use of a plane by President Paul Kagame, the autocratic ruler of Rwanda and a friend of the former prime minister.
Mr Blair can now afford to hire his own private jet. He has made a fortune estimated at between £40million and £60million out of business consultancy work and an advisory practice for governments across the world, including oil or mineral-rich countries such as Kazakhstan, Kuwait and Mongolia.
He also advises governments in South America, including a multi-million pound contract in Brazil.
He owns at least seven houses, including a town house in London and a country estate in Buckinghamshire.
Accounts for one of Mr Blair’s companies, Windrush Ventures, reported a profit last year of £3.6 million and administrative expenses of £12.5 million. Much of those expenses will be racked up on travel and hotel bills for Mr Blair and a large number of staff.
The use of the Global Express jet allows the former prime minister to travel the world without the need for stopovers at hub airports. Its large size – it seats about 12 passengers as well as crew – enables him to accommodate police protection officers, who accompany Mr Blair wherever he travels.
The Global Express jet was built in 2006 and was registered with the Civil Aviation Authority in 2008, having previously been listed in the Cayman Islands. Its registered owner is Aravco Ltd, a company based at Farnborough Airport in Hampshire and which in turn is majority-owned by International Jet Club Ltd.
The company boasts that it “provides high-end management and charter services to ultra-high net worth owners of heavy jets”.
A spokesman for Aravco said: “We do not discuss our aircraft or clients.”
Trevor Lambarth, Bombardier’s regional vice-president, who sold the jet in 2006, said: “Tony Blair does not own this plane. I sold the aircraft to the owner and what he does with it is his business.”
Mr Lambarth said the Global Express, of which there are about 500 in existence, was a top-of-the-range jet that comes configured with a state room at the rear, a lounge or conference area in the middle and a forward area that contains a galley kitchen and catering services.
The seats can swivel and lie flat while the state room comes with a large bed and a separate bathroom.
Emma Wilkinson, director of The Charter Company, an air charter brokerage firm, said charter arrangements and prices vary depending on deals struck when hiring a private jet.
She said that jets can be booked on a one-off, ad hoc basis for about £7,000 an hour or else block-booked for a certain number of hours over the course of a year. That brings down the costs.
She described the Global Express as a “wonderful aircraft”. “It has the range, the capacity and the luxury. It is Bombardier’s flagship and I will always rave about them,” she said.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said: “Taxpayers do not foot any part of the bill.”