Cocaine Force One: Portugal turns drug smuggling jet into presidential plane

Portuguese Air Force

Portugal believes in second chances: an official presidential plane recently induced was previously seized in a cocaine bust. 

On February 26, 2023, the Portuguese Air Force (FAP) announced having taken delivery of a Dassault Falcon 900B business jet. The new aircraft is to be operated by the Esquadra 504 Linces (Lynx – ed. note). This special transport squadron covers an array of strategic missions, such as medical evacuation, organ transport, and air transport of military and government officials. It operates from the Montijo Air Base (BA6), southeast of Lisbon. 

“This new aircraft increases the Air Force’s strategic transport capacity in missions to transport patients over long distances,” the FAP said in a statement. “The aircraft now received is in the operational readiness phase, and it is expected that it will soon begin to be operated by the Linces.” 

Since its creation in 1985, the Linces squadron has always been flying Dassault business jets, starting with the Falcon 20 and, up until now, the Falcon 50. Thus, with the squadron having experience flying and maintaining these two models, acquiring an aircraft from the same family made sense. 

Designed in the mid-1980s, the Falcon 900 was developed as a larger and more capable version of the popular Falcon 50 business jet, itself derived from the Falcon 20. Compared to its predecessor, the aircraft features a larger cabin that can accommodate 14 passengers (up from eight for the Falcon 50).

After several upgrades throughout the decade, it is currently being sold by Dassault Aviation as the Falcon 900LX. In 2022, the No. 32 Squadron of the Royal Air Force took delivery of two Falcon 900LX jets – the first Dassault and fourth French airplane ever to be operated by the RAF – designated Envoy IV CC1 and used for the short-haul transport of VIPs, including the British Royal Family.

The Falcon 900B is one of the first variants of the aircraft dating back to the early 1990s. It features new engines, reinforced landing gears, and updated avionics.  

(Source: Portuguese Air Force)

An uncanny procurement 

The acquisition of this 29-year-old aircraft, however, was rather unusual. Indeed, the Falcon 900B business jet, which went through several operators throughout its service life, was previously the property of the Portuguese private carrier Omni Aviacao e Tecnologia with the civilian registration CS-DTP. In fact, upon delivery to the FAP, the plane was still sporting its old livery. 

On February 10, 2022, as it was about to take off from Salvador Bahia Airport (SSA) in Brazil and fly to Portugal with several football personalities on board, it suddenly came to a stop. The pilot reported an anomaly with the flight controls to the air traffic controller.  

Upon inspection by mechanics, packages were found hidden in the fuselage. The Federal Police of Brazil was alerted and found 587 kilograms of cocaine. Sérgio Roberto de Carvalho, a former major of the Brazilian Federal Police behind the attempted drug smuggling, was arrested in Lisbon in June 2022.  

As for the plane, it was first sold for €4.2 million to one of Omni’s creditors, Parvalorem, to pay off part of an outstanding debt of €17 million with the now-defunct BPN bank. The aircraft was eventually acquired from Parvalorem by the Portuguese Ministry of Defense. 

(Source: Federal Police of Brazil)

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