The UK Department for Transport today began the procurement process of a dedicated air service for the royal household and senior ministers.

The Royal & Ministerial Air Travel Service, nicknamed Blair Force One, would be “safer, more reliable and more secure than the current arrangement,” according to a DfT press statement released today.

A spokesman for the department said that the current arrangements are provided by the RAF 32 Squadron, but following Sir Peter Gershon's review, which recommended that the existing arrangements, currently provided by the RAF and the charter market, be replaced with a new dedicated air service.

The spokesman explained that the RAF had time constraints, which meant that government ministers and members of the royal household would frequently have to “fall back on having to acquire the best deal in overseas travel in the charter market, at short notice, which can prove sometimes prove expensive.”

The spokesman explained that Gershon was concerned that the service could be provided at better value and at no extra cost to the taxpayer, and there may be security issues by using the charter market.

He said that a "broad estimate of the cost of the contract is to be approximately £100 million over ten years."

The department, issued a prior information notice (PIN) to the Official Journal of the European Union, a process announcing the start of the procurement process, and the next stage, by the summer, explained the spokesman, would involve bidders expressing interest by adding more detail, for example, what the bidding company’s expertise is, how much capital it has. From that will evolve a shortlist of bidders who will then be invited to submit a more detailed bid.

The spokesman could not give exact time frames for the process adding that the procurement exercise is “technical and complex”.

In the interim period before the service can be delivered, the current arrangement with the RAF will continue, but the government is looking to negotiate a deal with the charter market in order to provide better value for money.