Boeing is careful to guard the identities of those customers rich enough to buy a 747 for personal transport. That’s why there was no mention Tuesday of who bought the first passenger version of the new 747-8 when it took off on its delivery flight from Paine Field.
The plane was painted white, and its electronic flight path was blocked on popular Internet flight tracking sites.
But the plane’s registration number gave a clue to its eventual destination. The plane is registered in Qatar, that small but wealthy Middle Eastern country.
Aviation insiders said the plane first flew to Vancouver for international formalities and then left from there to Boeing’s Wichita plant where a sleeping loft above the fuselage is to be installed. From there, the plane will fly to Europe where it will spend nearly two years being fitted with a sumptuous interior.
Speculation is that the aircraft will become the Qatari equivalent of Air Force One, a VIP transport for Qatar’s highest officials.
The new plane is one of nine 747-8s Boeing has sold as VIP aircraft. Boeing has sold a total of 106 of the new 747s which feature new engines, an enhanced wing and interior improvements as well as a fuselage stretch. Of those 106 orders, 36 are for the passenger version of the aircraft. Along with the VIP aircraft, Lufthansa has bought 20 passenger jets, Korean Airlines has bought 5, and Arik Air 2. The rest of the planes ordered are freighters.
Boeing is trying to convince the Defense Department to replace the president’s two older 747s with the newer version, but budget constraints may keep that from happening anytime soon.