TOKYO -- A new generation is set to propel Japan's diplomatic efforts skywards starting on April 22. No, there hasn't been an influx of fresh blood at the top of the Foreign Ministry. Rather, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be winging his way to Europe and North America aboard a shiny new government Boeing 777-300ER -- the aircraft's first flight for official business.
White with a flowing ribbon of red painted along its fuselage, the new plane is taking the place of the Boeing 747-400s that began ferrying members of the Imperial Family and important government figures to destinations foreign and domestic in 1991.
There are in fact two new government 777s, so that an aircraft is available even if one of them requires repairs or has an accident. Serviced by All Nippon Airways Co. and flown by Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) pilots, they have a maximum range of 14,000 kilometers, or about 1,400 more than the 747s.
The onboard Wi-Fi also lets you know you are on a 21st century aircraft. Part of the interior is what one would expect on any plane run by a major airline, with 21 business class-style seats for senior officials, and 85 economy class-style seats complete with seatback screens for other staff and reporters covering official journeys.
The hints that this is not your average commercial airliner come in the form of the private VIP cabins, workspaces and conference rooms that take up another chunk of the plane's interior.
As for the venerable 747s the new planes are replacing, they were officially retired in March and will be sold. However, one of the VIP cabins is set to be removed and put on display at the ASDF's Air Park museum, located at the force's Hamamatsu Air Base in Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan.
(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)