Murphy's Law: The Tragic But True Fate Of The 707

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September 6, 2013: There’s another military corruption scandal in Pakistan. What’s different here is that it’s apparently not a scandal but journalists unfamiliar with what’s going on in their own air force and the second-hand aircraft business in general. The Pakistani story centers on a surplus Pakistani Air Force Boeing 707 airliner that had been converted to a VIP transport (for senior government and military officials) and was sold off (not auctioned) for $80,000. The basic accusation is that the air force could have obtained a lot more for the 707 if it were auctioned off instead of being “given away” to someone who obviously paid a bribe.

The reality is rather more different. The Boeing 707 became obsolete a decade ago, as most countries adopted new jet engine noise regulations that barred the use of 707s at major airports (and many minor ones). You could upgrade the 707 to comply but it was cheaper to buy a new aircraft (that was cheaper and safer to operate than the elderly 707). Only 1,010 707s were built (from 1958 to 1979) but it was a sturdy and reliable carrier of freight, as well as passengers, and continued in use for decades before rising fuel prices and maintenance costs made it too expensive to use.

The Boeing 707 commercial transport is actually a civilian version of the original KC-135 (of which 732 were built between 1956 and 1965 and evolved from the World War II B-29 heavy bomber). By 2000, the 707 was not the sort of aircraft VIPs wanted to travel in. Naturally it was difficult to find a buyer for the Pakistani 707 and it was eventually sold to someone in 2008 for $80,000. This is essentially scrap value. It’s unclear what happened to the VIP aircraft. Either it was scrapped or it had the VIP stuff ripped out and was pressed back into use as a “tramp freighter” in parts of the world where jet engine noise and flight safety are not major concerns.

The U.S. Air Force used to be a major player in the second-hand 707 market as the military was, until recently, converting them to military uses (AWACS and J-STARS), but even that has shifted to more modern aircraft designs. Until a decade ago you would buy an old 707 for less than a million bucks, then spend $25 million turning it into an aerial tanker or several times that to produce an AWACs. These days, the Boeing 737 is preferred for this sort of thing.

 

 


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