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PM Cameron to get 10 million pound official plane

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron and his senior ministers are to get their own airplane for official trips at a cost of around 10 million pounds ($15 million), the government announced on Thursday, just days before the announcement of a new round of public spending cuts.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London, Britain November 16, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

While many world leaders have their own jets, Cameron either uses a small military plane for short journeys or travels on chartered commercial flights for long-haul trips - posing security and communications problems.

A government spokeswoman said a military air-to-air refuelling airplane would be refitted for the role, for around 10 million pounds.

“We have been looking at ways to make better use of the RAF (Royal Air Force) fleet to transport senior ministers and consequently deliver savings for taxpayers,” she said.

“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.”

The decision, part of a long-term defence spending review, comes as Chancellor George Osborne prepares to set out a fresh round of spending cuts next Wednesday in a bid to eliminate the budget deficit.

Previous plans for an American-style ‘Air Force One’ were dropped in 2008 by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who said they would be too costly. The long-haul private jet had been given the go-ahead by his predecessor Tony Blair, leading it to be dubbed ‘Blair Force One’ by the media.

Twitter users have already been floating possible nicknames for the latest plane, including CamCord and PanCam.

The spokeswoman said the refit would include installing secure communications equipment and increasing the number of business class seats.

The plane would have a total capacity of around 158, with roughly 58 business class seats similar to the flat-bed-style seating found in Aer Lingus planes, she said.

Asked by reporters whether the airplane would have special prime ministerial livery similar to other countries’ official aircraft, she said declined to comment specifically, saying it would remain a functioning RAF Voyager.

While the government is likely to face criticism for what may be seen as an extravagance at a time of widespread cuts, the spokeswoman said the dedicated plane would save around 775,000 pounds a year on ministerial travel.

She cited a recent official trip to Saudi Arabia, saying the government would have saved around 75,000 pounds on transport costs if it had had its own official aircraft for that visit.

Business delegations and media would be charged to travel on the plane, which will remain in use by the RAF and also be available to the Royal family, she added.

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and William James, Editing by Stephen Addison