The President of South Korea has historically flown on Boeing 747 aircraft provided by national carriers Korean Air and Asiana Airlines. Until recently, a regular commercial 747 would temporarily bear the seal of the presidency before returning to its commercial duties.
Since 2010, Korean authorities have leased a 747-400 from Korean Air. The 200-seat plane, equipped with sophisticated defense systems, is under a 10-year lease which was recently extended to October 2021.
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The current Code One Boeing 747-400
The Korean Air Force and Presidential Security Service initiated the VC-X program in 2010. After relying on Korean Air and Asiana Airlines to provide planes each time the President flew on official business, authorities decided to acquire their own customized aircraft. A Boeing 747-400 was acquired in 2010 and took over all flight responsibilities.
The aircraft is no ordinary 747-400, fitted with advanced tech like radar-jamming, missile-deflecting flares, and state-of-the-art communication systems. Other components onboard the plane are classified, as is the complete interior layout. However, both a bedroom and private office are said to be among the amenities available to the President onboard.
Plans for a new plane by 2021
The 10-year lease of the current Code One plane was set to run out in March 2020. However, the Korean Air Force and Presidential Security Service weren’t able to secure a new contract in time, so the lease was extended to October 2021. After three unsuccessful bids, a deal was finally reached with Korean Air in May 2020 to lease a 747-8I.
This five-year contract is worth over $240 million. As part of the deal, Korean Air will provide pilots, crew members, mechanics, and ongoing maintenance services. Additionally, the carrier must make a back-up plane available in the event Code One can’t take to the skies. The new Code One is set to take over flying duties in November 2021, once the current Code One lease runs out.
The 747-8I will be leased, not purchased
Some officials in Korea have questioned why the new Code One has been acquired under a lease agreement. They argue that a nation of the stature of South Korea, with the 10th highest GDP in the world, should purchase its own aircraft for its President. The budget planning department of Korea’s National Assembly claims up to 470 billion won would be saved if Code One was purchased and used for 25 years.
However, presidential officials have dismissed these claims, stating that maintenance and repair costs would make any such purchase agreement economically unviable. Other leading nations have purchased their own presidential aircraft. Japan’s president recently acquired two Boeing 777-300ER planes, while the US is replacing its VC-25 Air Force One aircraft. Germany, France and China also own two planes each for presidential duties.