Many VIPs, governments, and heads of state have private widebody aircraft. The US has the most famous with the 747s that act as Air Force One, Germany has new A350s and India operates new 777s. But what about former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi? He owned an Airbus A340-200 from 2006 until he died in 2011. The plane was damaged in the conflict but has recently been seen flying once again.
Life before service in Libya
Gaddafi’s private A340 started life in 1996, delivered new from Airbus to the Sultan’s Flight in Brunei. It operated there under registration V8-JBB until 2000, alongside three other A340-200s in the fleet at the time (they have all now been retired according to data from ch-aviaiton.com).
In 2000 the aircraft was transferred to Saudi Arabia, where it was used as a private jet by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud through his Kingdom Holding company (with registration changed to HZ-WBT4). The Prince operated it until October 2006.
In 2005 he purchased a private 747-400, which he still has today. It is well known as one of the most luxurious private aircraft around. He is also the only customer to have ever ordered a private Airbus A380 – but it was never delivered nor fitted out with the luxury interior envisaged.
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Joining Afriqiyah Airways
In 2006, the Prince wanted to sell the A340 and another Boeing 767 that he owned (presumably as he was planning to purchase the 747). Both were offered to Gaddafi. According to reporting by Business Insider, Gaddafi paid $120 million for the aircraft.
It transferred to the Libyan national airline Afriqiyah Airways in October 2006, with new registration 5A-ONE and often referred to as ‘Afriqiyah One.’ It was painted in the airline livery and operated by airline crew but flew exclusively for Gadaffi.
After the aircraft was captured, it was displayed for journalists, and we saw more of the interior. It was fitted with red and grey carpets and spotlights. Luxury additions included a hot tub, private cinema, and a mirror-lined bedroom.
Moving the aircraft to France
The A340 was damaged in the crossfire at Tripoli airport but remained airworthy. CNN coverage describes its transport after that to the Airbus facility at Toulouse. It notes that it had to fly at a third of the standard cruising altitude and could not retract the landing gear.
5A-ONE was repaired and repainted in the new Libyan national colors and was ready to fly again in 2013. It saw brief service as a VIP aircraft for the Libyan government but returned to France in 2014 amidst a worsening security situation in the country.
It then remained grounded for several years amidst several ongoing legal battles. One of these involved commissions for the previous sale to Gaddafi. Another sought to have the aircraft impounded over debts owed by the Libyan government.
Taking to the skies in 2021
The aircraft has remained on the ground at Perpignan airport since 2014. For a long time, it was unclear what the future held for it. Storage and maintenance costs were mounting up, and at the time, value and interest in four-engine aircraft like the A340 were declining.
In May 2021, though, we saw 5A-ONE flying again, with a short flight from Perpignan airport. And in early June 2021, it spent two weeks at Istanbul Atatürk Airport (undergoing maintenance according to news reports from Duvar) before flying back to Libya. It has since been seen in London and Berlin.
The same reports indicate it has been refitted as a normal aircraft and may enter airline service. We will wait and see what the future holds for this famous, but now well aging, aircraft.
Have you ever seen 5A-ONE – either its previous roles or as part of its recent reappearance? Feel free to discuss more about this interesting aircraft in the comments.