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Are Dictator’s Boeing 747s Too Heavy for Iraqi Airways to Unload?

Once again, Iraqi Airways is on the hunt for potential buyers for two vintage Boeing 747 aircraft, erstwhile possessions of the infamous dictator, Saddam Hussein. These jumbo jets, which have been sequestered in Tunisia, are now primed for auction.  

Currently located at the Tozeur-Nefta Airport, the fate of these Boeing 747s hangs in the balance: Will they be purchased for cargo conversion, become VVIP flying residences for a wealthy new owner, or relegated to the scrap heap of history? 

Iraqi Airways is keen to divest itself of two outdated aircraft. As FlightGlobal reports, the national airline intends to auction off two Boeing 747s, each with a service history of 41 years. The planes under consideration are the Boeing 747 SP (registration YI-ALM) and the Boeing 747-200 (registration YI-AGP), both presently parked in Tunisia.  

AeroTelegraph has identified these aircraft as two Boeing 747s that Hussein sent to Tunisia at the beginning of the Second Gulf War. 

The YI-ALM functioned as a government aircraft during Hussein’s regime, while the YI-AGP, a convertible version of the 747-200, offered versatility in terms of passenger and cargo configurations and was deployed as a cargo plane.  

The two Boeing 747-200 aircraft are listed on the aircraft marketing site AvPay and compete with a slightly newer (1997) model 747-400 BCF which lists at $23 million. It was configured for cargo. 

Both aircraft were delivered directly to Iraqi Airways in the summer of 1982. Propelled by Pratt & Whitney PW-JT9D engines, the current state of the planes is unknown.  

Both Boeing 747s have been housed at the desert-adjacent Tozeur-Nefta Airport since the early 90s. Saddam Hussein, the then-Iraqi dictator, relocated them there on the precipice of the Second Gulf War to protect them from potential airstrikes. Efforts to sell the jumbo jets were previously made in 2010. 

FlightGlobal reports that the airline has appraised each plane at US$494,000, which in jumbo jet terms is a massive bargain. 

The Boeing 747, semi-retired but still incredibly useful

Age and provenance aside, the Queen of the Skies is a powerful performer. While rated at a top cruising speed of Mach .83, the 747 was tested at speeds up to Mach .91. 

Suitable for Heads of State

This is the core aircraft model (Boeing 747-200B) used for the VC-25s Air Force One (with plenty of custom upgrades on the VC-25s).  The current Air Force One is not substantially older, delivered to serve President George HW Bush in 1990 and still flying strong. New presidential aircraft are in the works, and the Air Force has ordered VC-25s from Boeing once again.  The two new Air Force One Aircraft (converted and highly customized 747-800s) are expected to be delivered four years from now and will sport an updated version of the classic blue and white livery created by the legendary designer Raymond Loewy with input from First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Lowey had also designed a livery for the 1962 Air Force One aircraft, Boeing 707 planes. A sketch available at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) shows a red-white-and-blue color scheme proposed by the designer.

Still Great When You Need to Fly Many Passengers and Lots of Cargo

Though Boeing recently retired the jet from production at the end of 2022, with airlines generally moving away from jumbo jets in favor of smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft, Lufthansa continues to operate their modern Boeing 747-8s and Boeing 747-400s. In fact, it brought the Boeing 747-400s back to service in 2021 after grounding them at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Asiana, Air China and Mahan Air of Iran each fly one active 747-400 in their fleet.

The Boeing 747: Private Palace in the Sky

A handful of Boeing 747 Private Business Jets are in service, but the jumbo aircraft type is naturally expensive to operate and maintain. As Corporate Jet Investor reports, newer Boeing 747-8s list for as much as $367 million. But that’s only the beginning. Designing and fitting an interior will typically add another $25-$50 million, depending on the design and features added. Flying a BBJ 747-8 costs around $23,000 an hour.

That hasn’t bothered the select few who have turned these aircraft into flying palaces. Though at least one Saudi Royal had sky-palace remorse, failing to convert the aircraft as planned after a decade-long wait and selling it and only 30 hours of flight. 

Back to the fate of the former Iraqi dictator’s parked Jumbos 

The auction of these long-resting Boeing 747s is slated for August 16, 2023. Iraqi Airways is asking for a 20 percent deposit paid to the Iraqi Ministry of Finance as a condition of the auction process. Iraqi Airways has also revealed there are certain stipulations on how the winning bidder might use the aircraft. 

There are costs tied to parking and maintenance  

In 2020, Tunisian reports mentioned an agreement between two countries to address the costs adding up for the parked planes. Iraq agreed to pay around 4.8 million euros for aircraft parking and maintenance.

It will be hard to recover those funds unless the two parked jets sell at an attractive price, but the Queen of the Skies deserves better than scraps. Who knows, maybe they’ll fetch a fair price this go-round. We’ll be watching. 

Meanwhile, Iraqi Airways Advances Fleet Renewal 

Iraqi Airways has significantly modernized its fleet. The airline welcomed the Airbus A220 into service last year, a milestone event that was quickly followed by the maiden delivery of a Boeing 737 Max in February 2023 and the acquisition of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner in June of the same year. 

Improved stability in Iraq has led the airline to expand its international network, using the 787-8 Dreamliner to open new routes. This strategic decision, backed by the Dreamliner and new 737 MAX jets, is key to the airline’s growth and fleet renewal initiatives. 

Boeing [NYSE: BA] and Iraqi Airways celebrated the delivery of the airline’s first Boeing 787 Dreamliner in Baghdad in June. This marks a significant step for the Iraqi flag carrier. With the first of 10 787s now in their possession, the airline is set to expand its long-haul network, connecting Iraq to more international destinations. 

The delivery of the first 787 follows the arrival of four Boeing 737 MAX airplanes since February. The airline’s order sheet reveals ambitious plans, with six 737-8s and 10 737-10s set to strengthen its single-aisle fleet. These additions will boost the airline’s capacity across regional and medium-haul routes.

“We are proud to be taking delivery of an airplane with the capabilities of the 787 Dreamliner. As domestic and international air traffic gains momentum, it’s crucial that our Iraqi Airways fleet matches growing demand with more efficient, capable and comfortable airplanes,” said Manaf Abdel-Monem, Director General of Iraqi Airways. “The 787 and 737 MAX airplanes we have received are key to our fleet renewal program, which aims to ensure we can fly our passengers around the world in the safety and comfort they expect from a modern and efficient airline like Iraqi Airways.”

Currently operating in over 50 locations, Iraqi Airways is upgrading its fleet in preparation for increased international travel to and from Iraq. The country is undergoing a period of growth and stability, with projected GDP growth of 7% by 2023. Middle Eastern airlines are also seeing a significant traffic increase. 

Boeing’s VP of Commercial Sales and Marketing for the Middle East, Omar Arekat, celebrated the milestone of Iraqi Airways receiving its first 787 Dreamliner, underlining Boeing’s dedication to aiding Iraqi Airways in optimizing and expanding its routes. 

Kuljit Ghata-Aura, Boeing’s President for the Middle East, Türkiye, and Africa, stated that air transport is fundamental for economic growth, job creation, trade, tourism, and sustainable development. He emphasized the significance of the Boeing 787 in connecting Iraq with the rest of the world and Boeing’s commitment to assisting Iraq’s commercial aviation sector. 

The 787-8 Dreamliner can carry 248 passengers up to 13,530 km and is 25% more fuel-efficient and generates 25% fewer emissions than its predecessors. The 787 family has substantially reduced carbon emissions since 2011. 

The 787 family, designed by Boeing for superior efficiency, allows airlines to profitably open new routes and provide passengers with unmatched comfort. It has launched over 350 new non-stop routes globally since 2011, including more than 50 new ones since 2020. 

Passengers on the 787 family enjoy various features, including large windows, more comfortable air pressure and humidity, spacious overhead bins, LED lighting, and turbulence-mitigating technology. 

Apart from the 737-8 and 787-8, Iraqi Airways operates a fleet of over 40 Boeing airplanes, including 737-800s, 747s, and 777s, serving more than 50 locations from Baghdad.

More Facts on the Boeing 747 Queen of the Skies

The Boeing 747: History’s Most Successful Plane

The 747 was developed by 50,000 Boeing workers, known as “the Incredibles,” in the late 1960s. It was designed to address increased air traffic and take advantage of high-bypass engine technology. 

The 747 design came in three versions: all passenger, all cargo, and a convertible model. Its size required the construction of the world’s largest building by volume to assemble it. 

Pilot training for the 747 involved a unique training device called “Waddell’s Wagon.” The National Aeronautics and Space Administration modified two 747s into Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Several other versions of the 747 were developed over the years, including the 747-200, 747-300, and 747-400. 

In 1999, Boeing began work on a militarized 747-400 Freighter for the U.S. Air Force’s Airborne Laser (ABL) program. The Dreamlifter, a modified 747-400, was used to transport large fuselage sections of the 787 Dreamliner. 

The 747-400ER (Extended Range) family was launched in 2000, offering a greater range than previous models. In 2005, Boeing launched the 747-8 family, which incorporated technologies from the 787 Dreamliner. 

The 747-8 Freighter first flew in 2010, offering 16 percent more cargo volume than its predecessor. The passenger version, the 747-8 Intercontinental, took its first flight in 2011. 

By 2014, Boeing had delivered the 1,500th 747, making it the first wide-body airplane in history to reach this milestone.

By the end of the 747 program’s lifespan, Boeing had delivered 1,574 jumbo jets.

The Last 747 Went to Cargo provider Atlas Air Worldwide

Boeing and Atlas Air celebrated the delivery of the last 747 in January of this year—an airplane that transformed aviation and global air travel. In a grand celebration drawing in thousands, including past and present employees, customers, and suppliers, the final 747 was delivered to Atlas Air Worldwide on January 31, 2023.

EVERETT, Wash., Jan. 31, 2023— Boeing [NYSE: BA] and Atlas Air Worldwide [Nasdaq: AAWW] joined thousands of people – including current and former employees as well as customers and suppliers – to celebrate the delivery of the final 747 to Atlas, bringing to a close more than a half century of production.

In a touching tribute to their enduring craftsmanship, the original engineers and designers of the first 747, endearingly referred to as the “Incredibles,” were summoned back to the Everett factory. This was the very birthplace of the iconic 747 back in 1967. A testament to their remarkable work, the factory bore witness to the production of an astonishing 1,574 airplanes during the program’s lifespan.

“This monumental day is a testament to the generations of Boeing employees who brought to life the airplane that ‘shrank the world’ and revolutionized travel and air cargo as the first widebody,” said Stan Deal, president, and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “It is fitting to deliver this final 747-8 Freighter to the largest operator of the 747, Atlas Air, where the ‘Queen’ will continue to inspire and empower innovation in air cargo.”

“We are honored to continue our long history of flying this iconic aircraft for our customers around the world,” said John Dietrich, president and chief executive officer of Atlas Air Worldwide. “Atlas Air was founded over 30 years ago with a single 747-200 converted freighter, and since then, we have spanned the globe operating nearly every fleet type of the 747, including the Dreamlifter, Boeing’s 747 Large Cargo Freighter, for the transport of 787 Dreamliner parts. We are grateful to Boeing for their shared commitment to safety, quality, innovation, and the environment, and for their partnership to ensure the continued success of the 747 program as we operate the aircraft for decades to come.”

Boasting the title of the inaugural “jumbo jet” and the first-ever twin-aisle airplane, the “Queen of the Skies” forever changed the landscape of commercial aviation. This remarkable feat of engineering made non-stop trans-oceanic flights a reality, bridging vast distances and bringing the world closer together. Who could deny Boeing’s pivotal role in the industry’s evolution, solidified by this groundbreaking development? 

The airplane’s iconic design, marked by its distinctive hump and upper-deck seating, has captivated countless passengers and operators over the years. Has there ever been a plane that has delighted so many, generation after generation? 

Boeing, not one to rest on its laurels, has continually advanced the original design. The 747-400, introduced in 1988, and the ultimate 747-8 model, launched in 2005, are testaments to this relentless pursuit of improvement. These models have consistently delivered unrivaled operating economics and efficiency, revolutionizing both travel and air cargo markets. Would it be an exaggeration to say that the jet has reshaped our world?

Boeing 747 Technical Specifications

First flightFeb. 9, 1969 
Model number747-100/-200
ClassificationCommercial transport
Span195 feet 8 inches
Length231 feet 4 inches
Gross weight735,000 pounds
Cruising speed640 mph
Range6,000 miles
Ceiling45,000 feet
PowerFour 43,000-pound-thrust P&W JT9D-3 engines
Accommodation33 attendants, 374 to 490 passenger

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