Korean Air Sells 5 Boeing 747s to USAF Contractor for Doomsday Plane Program

Korean Air USAF Doomsday Plane Program
Korean Air has finalized an agreement with Sierra Nevada Corp, a defense contractor based in Nevada, for the sale of five Boeing 747-8 aircraft. This transaction is part of Sierra Nevada Corp’s recent contract worth $13 billion from the United States Air Force (USAF) to develop the next Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC), commonly referred to as the “Doomsday Plane”.

According to a report from Reuters, Korean Air will sell five of its Boeing 747-8 widebody aircraft to Sierra Nevada Corp for $674 million, equating to approximately $135 million per aircraft. The sale is expected to be completed by September 2025, leaving Korean Air with only four 747-8 passenger planes as it continues its efforts to modernize its fleet.

Korean Air stated in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that this move aligns with its long-term strategy of divesting older aircraft in favor of newer generation jets. Notably, this sale follows closely on the heels of Korean Air’s confirmation of a deal to purchase 33 Airbus A350s valued at $13.7 billion.

These four-engine Boeing 747s are slated to replace the USAF’s existing Boeing E-4B Advanced Airborne Command Post (AACP) aircraft, which are based on modified Boeing 747-200B airframes. Sierra Nevada Corp, under contract with the USAF, is expected to complete the project by 2036. The Air Force has allocated an initial $59 million to commence development and testing.

Amidst a trend in the aviation industry favoring more fuel-efficient twin-engine long-haul aircraft, Korean Air plans to reduce its Boeing 747 passenger fleet by half over the next 18 months.

Presently, the airline operates nine 747-8I passenger jets configured to accommodate up to 368 passengers across three classes: six in first class, 48 in business class, and 314 in economy class. Korean Air is one of only three carriers, alongside Air China and Lufthansa, operating the 747-8 as a passenger aircraft.

Korean Air’s oldest 747-8I aircraft is yet to reach its ninth year of service. Additionally, the airline operates 11 Boeing 747 freighters as part of its substantial cargo business. The fate of Korean Air’s Airbus A380 fleet remains uncertain, particularly following recent reports of one of its A380s being dismantled.

The USAF’s Doomsday fleet is designed to withstand a nuclear attack and provide airborne operational command capabilities to leaders. Currently, the Air Force has four E-4B Nightwatch aircraft, also known as National Airborne Operations Centers, fulfilling this role. However, the Air Force aims to replace them within the next 12 years.

Last month, Sierra Nevada Corp secured a $13 billion contract to develop the replacement for the USAF’s E-4B fleet. According to Defense News, this contract encompasses both the development and production of the aircraft and its associated ground systems.

The Air Force has emphasized a modular approach for the new Doomsday plane, enabling integration of evolving equipment and technological advancements.

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