Insurgent forces had simply taken management of the nation’s airport and captured a significant prize.
Wanting capturing Gadhafi himself — Libya’s ousted chief can be killed by insurgent forces weeks later — that they had taken maintain of certainly one of his gaudiest symbols of energy.
Bullets and shrapnel had riddled the fuselage of the four-engined Airbus A340-200 plane, however the inside was nonetheless intact.
International journalists have been quickly invited on board to see it for themselves.
One after one other, the innermost chambers of Libya’s presidential airplane — by that time occupied by Kalashnikov-toting insurgent militiamen — revealed their secrets and techniques: a sizzling tub, a non-public cinema, a mirror-lined master suite and extra.
Though on the skin it seemed like simply one other airliner of Libya’s flag service, Afriqiyah Airways, this extravagantly fitted plane was Gadhafi’s very personal flying palace.
Refit, recycle, repurpose?
The destiny of this luxury presidential airplane quickly introduced Libya’s new authorities with a quandary: What to do with an plane so intently related to the excesses of its late dictator?
One possibility was to strip it of its VIP inside and switch it into a daily airliner.
This was to not be case with the Gadhafi airplane however nonetheless, one factor was clear: No matter ultimate use it was given, the plane was in want of an in depth and thorough refit.
That is why, in 2012, the previous presidential plane, registration 5A-ONE, was flown to the amenities of EAS Industries (at the moment Sabena Technics), an aerospace upkeep and restore agency and Air France subcontractor based mostly in Perpignan, within the south of France.
Not like different airliners that have been caught within the 2011 crossfire at Tripoli airport and needed to be written off, Gadhafi’s A340 remained airworthy. The injury it suffered in the course of the airport battle, although, was severe sufficient that the 900-mile journey to France needed to be flown at a 3rd of the conventional cruising altitude and its touchdown gear could not be retracted in any respect.
A Libyan insurgent relaxes within the airplane at Tripoli in August 2011.
PATRICK BAZ/AFP through Getty Photographs
Lawsuits and controversy
As soon as in France, the plane was repaired and repainted.
The outdated Afriqiyah “9999” livery, which commemorated the declaration of a decision to ascertain the African Union on September 9, 1999, was quickly gone, changed by a brand new one sporting the Libyan flag.
By 2013, the plane was able to fly once more, however quite than getting into business service, it was retained by the Libyan authorities for its personal use.
A brief-lived tour, as a result of, with the safety state of affairs in Libya deteriorating, by March 2014, 5A-ONE was again in Perpignan.
This time, although, its arrival on French soil marked the beginning of a global judicial imbroglio which has stored Gadhafi’s Airbus grounded to this present day.
Lawsuits and controversy appear to comply with this airframe wherever it goes.
It was first delivered, in 1996, to Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the playboy brother of the Sultan of Brunei. The prince is claimed to have spent $250 million customizing it earlier than promoting it lower than 4 years later, at a time when he was entangled in a judicial feud together with his household over using state funds.
However, quickly after, the A340 was again in the marketplace and it’s at this level that Gadhafi enters the image. The Libyan chief lastly acquired it in 2006 for $120 million.
This was the primary of a number of high-profile authorized circumstances linked to this plane.
In August 2011, a Libyan insurgent sits within the cockpit of the A340 that already had amassed a colourful historical past.
PATRICK BAZ/AFP through Getty Photographs
Caught in crossfire
In the identical yr Gadhafi purchased his Airbus, the Libyan authorities signed a cope with the Al Kharafi Group, a Kuwait-based conglomerate, to develop a seaside resort in Tajura, close to Tripoli. It was not lengthy earlier than this deal began to go bitter and, in 2010, it was canceled by the Libyan aspect.
This was to be however the first act of a fancy authorized dispute going down in a number of jurisdictions that’s nonetheless ongoing at this time. Gadhafi’s presidential airplane was to be caught, once more, in a crossfire — solely this time it was of the authorized quite than literal type.
The Al Kharafi Group sued the Libyan state in France too, so when the A340 landed in Perpignan, they sought to have it impounded.
The claimants appealed and, as their case was slowly making their method up by the French authorized system, the previous presidential airplane was racking up different kinds of liabilities.
By 2016 upkeep, restore and refitting charges had gone as much as practically €3 million, which made Air France a celebration within the judicial course of too, including an additional layer of complexity to the case. This quantity is more likely to have gone up since then, and this occurs additionally in a context by which the market worth of gas-guzzling, four-engined planes, just like the 25-year outdated Libyan A340, has plummeted.
However, evidently the plane remains to be being maintained and sorted. In late 2020, native spotters noticed its engines getting began, a daily process for plane stored in long-term storage, however are nonetheless airworthy.
At this stage, it’s arduous to inform what the longer term holds for what has come to be often known as “Gadhafi’s jet”.
Coincidentally, it isn’t the one presidential jet that has turn out to be a long-term resident at Perpignan. Two different African presidential jets, each Boeing 727s, of the governments of Benin and Mauritania respectively, are additionally in long-term storage on the French Catalan airfield.
And extra lately, in January 2021, one other presidential Airbus A340 paid a go to to the identical amenities to bear upkeep. This one, although, utilized by French president Emmanuel Macron, is just not anticipated to stay lengthy among the many vineyards of Roussillon.