Peter Fabricius

Foreign Editor

German Chancellor Angela Merkel carries the weight of Europe’s – and perhaps the world’s – future on her shoulders as she flies about, trying to contain the euro zone debt crisis.

But President Jacob Zuma will nose ahead of her in the global presidential jet stakes if the government closes the deal to buy a Boeing 777-200 for his travels. The Boeing 777-200 is 63.7 metres long, edging out Merkel’s Airbus A340-313X by 100 significant centimetres.

In fact, the 777-200 will put the SA president up in the first flight of jets which carry the world’s kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers on official business abroad.

A rough glance at this imaginary fleet all flying together makes it clear that size really does matter to the word’s nations and leaders, roughly reflecting their importance in the world – or, at least self-importance.

US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are all out there in front, at 70m of aircraft each, all flying Boeing 747s or customised variations.

The US’s Air Force One is the industry standard, with its sophisticated logistical and security facilities, including a mini White House for the president, with an office from which he can address the nation while flying, plus comfortable sleeping quarters, clinic and so on.

When India upgraded its prime minister’s intercontinental transport in 2003 from a standard 747 hired from the national carrier Air India to the dedicated 747-400, it was very much inspired by Air Force One, according to India media commentators.

They say Air India One now also has jamming devices, a medical room, secure communication facilities, in-flight refuelling capabilities and electronic warfare devices.

Indian officials suggest that some journalistic licence has been taken here and that Singh still flies in an Air India 747-400 hired from the airline’s normal fleet, configured especially for his purposes, with meeting and sleeping quarters and so on – but reconfigured afterwards for normal commercial passenger flights.

Hu’s travel arrangements differ, in that his 747s remain permanently with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force fleet.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is just a nose behind the three 747s in his Ilyushin Il-96-300PU, fitted out in Britain.

As befits her position as the unofficial leader of Europe, Merkel’s Airbus A340-313X, range 13 500km, is the largest official jet in the EU.