Hustler jet two: The high cost of Ruto's flight to America

President William Ruto and First Lady Rachel greet a children's band upon arrival at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, USA. [PCS]

Taxpayers will pay close to Sh200 million for President William Ruto’s trip to the USA after State House chartered the Boeing 737-700 business jet operated by Royal Jet of Dubai.

The airline, based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, offers charter services for $18,000 (Sh2.4m per hour targeting the luxury market between the UAE, Europe, and the USA.

A quotation from Royal Jet, the Abu Dhabi-based private airline that provided Ruto’s luxurious transport, reveals a one-way flight from Nairobi to Atlanta costs $748,600 (Sh98 million). The figure is for the 18-hour flight as stated in the said quotation.

That would mean that the president’s round trip aboard a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) would cross the Sh200 million mark, given that he is scheduled to fly to Washington, a trip that lasts nearly two hours.

Similarly, the cost of flying the stately Boeing 737-700 aircraft to Abu Dhabi would also apply.

Ruto chose to travel in style for his State Visit to the United States, the first by an African president in 15 years, abandoning his presidential jet, a Fokker 70ER, for obvious range limitations. 

Cruising at 34,000 feet throughout his 18-hour flight (17 hours in flight), split in two legs, Ruto experienced the finest luxury. The $100 million (Sh13 billion)  twin-engine trashes commercial airlines’ first-class experiences and comes at a hefty price tag.

An hour aboard the luxurious Edese Doret-designed BBJ starts at $12,000 (Sh1.6 million), which could soar to $18,000 (approx Sh2.4 million). This means it could have cost a low of Sh29 million or a high exceeding Sh43.2 million to transport the president and his entourage from Nairobi to Atlanta. The same amounts would apply on their return.

The Atlanta to Washington leg will last nearly two hours, increasing the bill to be footed by the taxpayer.

That is in addition to the amount spent getting the aircraft from Abu Dhabi to Nairobi and back to the United Arab Emirates capital, a nearly five-hour journey on both legs that could each cost anywhere between Sh8 million and Sh10 million.

The jet in question left Abu Dhabi at 9.03 am (8.03 am Kenyan time) on Saturday, landing at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at 12.40 pm, where it spent a day on the ground ahead of Ruto’s trip.

The Commander-in-Chief would depart at 9.48 pm Sunday and landed at Santiago de Compostela in Spain yesterday at 5.30 am, local time (7.30 am Kenyan time), eight hours and 42 minutes later, ostensibly to refuel.

“Santiago de Compostela in Spain is where all aircraft carrying the president either proceed or are refuelled when heading to the USA. Each country has a different agreement with different countries,” a top official at the State House official said.

Fitted with 10 auxiliary tanks, the BBJ can fly an ultralong range exceeding 11,000 nautical miles. However, most are designed to fly between 10 and 12 hours a day. The distance between Nairobi and Atlanta is 7,486nm, approximately 13,000km.

The second leg of the flight to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was scheduled for approximately nine hours.

Ruto’s four-day US trip could cost upwards of Sh200 million if additional rates are factored in, an amount that tramples the cost of flying commercially.

Two hours after the president’s departure, a Kenya Airways scheduled flight to New York, took off. Had Ruto chosen to board the KQ flight, a one-way business class ticket would have cost between Sh123,000 and Sh234,000.

But he would have needed a connecting flight to Atlanta, a complication the protocols involved in state visits would not allow. Flying a president involves logistical and security considerations.

First class on most airlines that offer the service would cost between Sh800,000 and Sh1,000,000 for a one-way trip, but it would also involve a connecting flight. It is unclear whether Ruto, known to fly commercially, has previously chartered BBJs.

Chartering other flights is a possibility, too. Kenya’s carrier KQ offers international charters, requiring a request 72 hours before departure.

“Take advantage of KQ Charters by getting to places you need to get to and land in airports of your choosing. Create your own destinations,” reads a description on KQ’s website.

The Standard could not immediately establish the cost of a KQ charter. Services offered include a personalised menu, tarmac transfers and lounge accesses at $40 (Sh5,200) per person, among others.

Foreign Heads of State have been known to charter their country’s carriers during State visits if their respective presidential jets lack the needed range. 

But flying a commercial charter barely compares to a BBJ, designed for ultimate grandeur. Indeed, the Abu Dhabi-owned Royal Jet, which chiefly serves the UAE and European luxury market, promises nothing less.

“The new Royal Jet experience comes to life through our people and through the core elements of our guest’s journey, which we are continuously striving to improve, from before they depart until well after they arrive at their destination,” the airline says in its website, promising a personalised experience for clients who can alter their lighting and temperature preferences digitally.

With a spacious cabin measuring 3,689 square feet, the Royal Jet eclipses Ruto’s presidential jet, which National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah wants replaced.

It features a private bedroom, complete with a queen-size bed, a wardrobe and a private bathroom with a full shower. Its lavish furnishings, unparalleled audio and video experience and an additional personal onboard chef complete the luxury resort feel.

The plane typically has a living room, dining area and a lounge with eight plush leather seats that can be reclined into flatbeds and two marble tables and features partitions for privacy and sensitive meetings.

Eight more seats are accommodated behind the lounge area with flatbed capability and some 18 premium seats are usually fitted to accommodate the entourage. 

Although the plane’s interior can accommodate nearly 150 passengers, most BBJs are configured to house between 40 and 60 passengers.

Ruto’s taste for the finer things has been highlighted previously. In 2013, he was on the news for his “Hustler Jet”, hired to fly him to four West African nations at Sh100 million.

Additional reporting by Emmanuel Too

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