Amid a fierce firefight at Aden International Airport in Yemen last week, one of few remaining 747SP aircraft was completely destroyed. Operated by Yemenia and reserved for the use of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the aircraft had previously been damaged when the country’s civil war broke out earlier this year.
The Yemeni presidential aircraft photographed on the ground in 2002
The airport has been the site of ongoing fighting this year, prompting a total closure in March. Under normal conditions, the airport serves six airlines and is home to a Yemeni Air Force base. Aden is of great importance given its strategic location on the Gulf of Aden near the mouth of the Red Sea.
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The fighting in Aden is taking place between southern fighters backed by Saudi Arabia and Shiite-led Houthi rebels from northern Yemen. Funded by Iran and aligned with former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthi forces have been holding Aden International Airport and much of the coastal city for the last few months. Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of nine Arab states in an aerial bombing campaign known as Operation Decisive Storm which aims to repel the Houthi fighters.
7O-YMN photographed in flight in 2010
The destroyed aircraft (tail number 7O-YMN) originally entered service with Braniff International Airways in 1980. It later served Aerolineas Argentinas, Air Mauritius and Qatar Airways before joining the Yemenia fleet in 2001. Yemenia, which is Yemen’s state airline, operates a mixed fleet of Airbus jets for normal passenger service, although they have suspended operations indefinitely and face bankruptcy as a result of war and sanctions from the United Nations.
Prior to serving President Hadi, the 747SP aircraft also served former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2006, former President Saleh used the aircraft to visit Japan on a state visit, as well as to the U.S. for a state visit with former President George W. Bush. In July 2013, it returned to the U.S., carrying President Hadi to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for bilateral meetings with President Barack Obama.
7O-YMN photographed taking off in 2004
While the aircraft was apparently written off after reportedly being hit with bullets in March, its recent total destruction makes 747SPs all the more scarce. Of the 45 747SPs manufactured, only 13 of the special type are thought to remain in service as of this writing. The remainder have been withdrawn from use so they can be used for parts, scrapped entirely, or held in storage for possible future regeneration.
The 747SP (SP stands for “Special Performance”) is a modified version of Boeing’s flagship 747 jumbo jet. SP models were introduced in 1973 and feature several design changes that increase speed, extend range and operating altitude. In addition to a fuselage shortened by over 48 feet, SP models have lighter wings and solid flaps which contribute towards an overall weight reduction of around 45,000 pounds compared to an empty 747-200.
More than 3,500 people have been killed in Yemen’s Civil War, and many nations have already taken steps to evacuate their citizens from the war-torn country. Because the conflict in Yemen is interrelated with many other regional and proxy quarrels, the larger picture of security in the Middle East remains murky. Even with the recent nuclear compromise between Iran and the P5+1 nations, parts of the Middle East remain very dangerous for both civilian and military flight operations.
Photo credit: Destroyed presidential aircraft - Gulf News, 7O-YMN parked - Torsten Maiwald/Wikicommons, 7O-YMN in flight, middle shot - parfaits/Wikicommons, 7O-YMN climbing, bottom shot - Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/Wikicommons