Britain is to spend up to £10 million ($15 million, 14 million euros) converting a military plane for official use by Prime Minister David Cameron, Downing Street confirmed Thursday.
The government argues that having an aircraft similar to the US president’s Air Force One, which could also be used by the royal family and senior ministers, will save money in the long term.
It will give more details of its plans to refit a Royal Air Force (RAF) A330 Voyager plane, currently used for air-to-air refuelling missions, in its security and defence review on Monday.
The plane, for use on official visits, will be fitted out with nearly 60 business class seats out of a total of 160 and will also get secure communications facilities to allow the prime minister to work on board.
Downing Street said that while the refit would cost £10 million it would end up saving taxpayers £775,000 a year.
Cameron’s spokeswoman said the plane would enter service “as soon as possible” and was expected to be in use for 20 years.
“We have been looking at ways to make better use of the RAF fleet to transport senior ministers and consequently deliver savings for taxpayers,” said a government spokesman.
“We have decided to adapt one of our existing Voyager aircraft so that, in addition to its primary air tanking role, it can transport ministers and it will also be available for the royal family to use.”
Even after the refit, the plane will still be available for air-to-air refuelling missions when not ferrying politicians and royals on official visits around the world.
It is not expected to be repainted to reflect its new role.
While most world leaders have official jets which take them on government business abroad, a string of British leaders have shied away from commissioning one for fear of being seen as extravagant.
Instead, they have usually either chartered planes or travelled on RAF planes.
Earlier this year, the government drew controversy by paying £100,000 to hire an aircraft to take Cameron and members of the royal to the funeral of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
The latest move risks being politically sensitive as it comes as Cameron’s government imposes deep austerity cuts on public spending in a bid to cut Britain’s budget deficit.
Tony Blair was the last leader to push for a prime ministerial jet -- nicknamed “Blair Force One” by the media -- but his then finance minster and later successor Gordon Brown blocked the request.