Further Rwanda Deportation Flights Planned by UK Home Office – So Who Profits?

Privilege Style aircraft involved engaged in deportation flights.
Photo Credit: Harrison Rowe/AviationSource

LONDON – Following the first controversial failed attempt to deport a number of asylum seekers to Rwanda using charted Spanish air operator Privilege Style, the UK is set to continue its intended program of deportation flights.

This is perhaps unsurprising, given the UK government’s hard-line stance on its newly brokered offshoring policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda for procession and resettlement.

This headstrong attitude was reflected in the statement made by the Home Office legal counsel Mathew Gullick QC in the 11th hour European court intervention which led to the cancellation of the first flight last month.

When asked the intentions of his client with regards to future Rwanda flights policy, Gullick QC stated:

“The Home Office intends to make arrangements for further flights this year. There may be a further flight scheduled between now and July. It will require approval from the Rwandan government.”

AviationSource previously covered the failed first flight live as it happened, and provided analysis on the air safety implications of mass deportation flights.

Air operators that profit from undertaking deportation flights

Major first world nations that undertake mass deportation flights currently include the USA and Australia, as well as the United Kingdom. For the air operators who undertake them, the contracts to provide air services are highly lucrative.

Australia

In Australia, private operator Skytraders undertakes immigration detainee transfer flights on behalf of the Australian Home Affairs office. The operator also holds a contract with the Australian Scientific Division and operates to Antarctica.

Using Airbus A319 aircraft, Skytraders were first awarded the contract in 2010. Their recent contract extension for 2108-2021 was valued at AUD$78.74 million.

The United States

In the US, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with private charter companies to fly what it terms “ICE Air missions.”

The majority of these chartered deportation flights are operated under a still-secret contract between ICE and a single broker. That broker is currently Classic Air Charter (CAC), who was awarded the contract in 2017, currently valued at approximately USD$740.2 million.

The United Kingdom

The organisation Corporate Watch identifies 7 operators who provided charter services for UK deportation flights last year.

Of the 7 airlines, 4 operators flew deportation operations regularly – TUI Airlines, AirTanker, Privilege Style and Titan. The remaining 3 – HiFly, Wamos, and Iberojet (formerly Evelop) were one-off providers. Flight numbers are depicted below.

Image: Corporate Watch

The Home Office spent over £11.7m on charter deportation flights in 2021, with the average flight costing over £180,000. For participating air operators, this meant a particularly attractive piece of pie at a time when the aviation industry was floundering.

With closed borders and mass restrictions on air travel during the pandemic, TUI Airlines stemmed the financial haemorrhage in part by operating these highly lucrative deportation flights.

Public resistance to deportation policy


In more recent times, growing awareness and social change has meant open resistance from the public to deportation operations. Where once upon a time nobody would bat an eyelid, increasing numbers of grassroots activists and NGOs are stepping into the fray and openly picketing airline offices.

Stop TUI demonstration in Brighton – summer 2021. Photo Credit: SOAS Detainee Support Group

Perhaps TUI Airlines recognised the unwanted publicity was bad for general business, and they terminated their participation in deportation flights in August 2121.

Issues of human rights, morality and downright bad publicity haven’t deterred all air operators though. Spanish charter operator Privilege Style were quick to sneak in and pick up the leftovers, as further evidenced by their attempted Rwanda operation last month.

All privilege and no style?


Privilege Style (Privilege Líneas Aéreas S.A.) is a small Spanish charter airline founded in 2003. Its HQ is in Palma De Mallorca. It also bases aircraft in Madrid.

Privilege Style operates a fleet of wide-body aircraft. According to its website, the company currently has a fleet of four: two Boeing 757s, one B767 and one B777. It has also recently ordered a fifth aircraft – an Airbus A321-200.

The aircraft are reportedly old, bought second-hand from more prestigious airlines. 

Public reaction to last month flight for the Home Office was swift, with protests taken to the operator’s Spanish headquarters.

The angry retaliation was enough to make Chema Álvarez, wealthy president and owner of the airline, quickly lock his Twitter account. It subsequently remains locked at the time of writing.

Switching from luxury transport to slave ship


A common characteristic shared between Privilege Style and the US deportation charter operators is their ability to reconfigure between flying mass numbers of immigration detainees in shackles, to flying high-end ‘luxury’ charters for high profile sports teams, celebrities and business executives.

In February 2022, Swift, who fly US ICE Air deportations, inaugurated a new high-end service involving “ultra-luxurious” amenities including “VIP-configured” lie-flat seating, entertainment systems, and a bar. Its first flight was for the Houston Rockets NBA basketball team.

Flying big league sports teams is a big part of Privilege Style’s and photos show Privilege aircraft decorated with stick-on logos for Spanish football clubs. Sevilla FC and Atlético de Madrid appear to be the most frequent customers. Other teams who have recently hired Privilege planes include: FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal CF, Getafe FC, RC Celta, and the basketball teams Saski Baskonia and Valencia Basket.

Analysis


Be it the UK, USA or Australia, flying immigration detainee flights and the contracts are lucrative for any charter operator which is prepared to turn a blind eye to the moral and human rights issues.

However, in 2022, there is a rising factor which stands in their way – the tide of public sentiment has turned in favour of a more humane and pragmatic approach to the plight of refugees. Will a point be reached where the loss of client goodwill in the airline outweighs the profit from the job?

This steadily escalating wave of social change will certainly become a key factor, and a thorn in the side of the UK Home Office’s upcoming Rwanda flights.

About the author

Len Varley

A former Chief Pilot/Chief Flying Instructor, Len has 35 years experience in diverse aviation roles. Speaks fluent Australian & English! Len is the Assistant Editor for AviationSource.

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