A Boeing 747 plane abandoned in Hong Kong faces being scrapped though aviation fans hope it can be spared as the number of the iconic jumbo jets, dubbed the "queen of the skies", left in the world dwindles.
The Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) was understood to be planning to dismantle the plane formerly operated by Orient Thai Airlines, after the now-defunct carrier cut the aircraft adrift three years ago.
The 27-year-old plane faces a wholly different fate to an ex-Russian-operated Boeing 767 which was similarly abandoned but was put up for sale for US$795,000 (HK$6.2 million) by the AAHK last week.
Hong Kong-based aviation expert Mike Walsh described the 747 planes as "iconic", but said that without seeing the latest details of the plane's inspections, among other documents, it was hard to ascertain the hull and engine value of the Orient Thai plane. Walsh did not hold out much hope for its value and understood the condition of the plane was "particularly poor".
Doubting the plane would fly again, he urged creative thinking rather than the scrapyard.
"If this were a Southeast Asian country, it may have been converted into a restaurant or boutique hotel perhaps," he said.
The former Orient Thai 747, which in a previous life flew for Cathay Pacific Airways, touched down to operate a flight in March 2016 and developed mechanical problems. Orient, which went bankrupt, was unable to pay to repair its plane years ago and it was marooned at Hong Kong airport.
For now, the AAHK is locked in talks with people claiming to be the rightful owner of the 747, who face a hefty multimillion-dollar bill in parking charges alone.
A conservative estimate from the Post puts the parking charge owed to the AAHK at HK$7,174,080 (US$913,000).
Hong Kong International Airport's operator declined to address how it has used the abandoned plane or what its fate would be.
"AAHK is in discussion with the representative of a party who claims to be the owner of the Orient Thai Boeing 747 aircraft for the handling of the aircraft," the authority said in a statement.
The 747, registered HS-STC, has spent most of its time in Hong Kong parked at the maintenance area with one of four engines missing.
To prevent the plane from becoming a danger to other planes and property, a spare engine has been attached to the aircraft during typhoon seasons.
In recent months, the Post understands, the authority and counterparts have been using the plane for training purposes, despite the newly emerged ownership dispute.
One of the tasks involved airport and maintenance companies training to recover a plane that was not upright, using large inflatables to get it back in the correct position.
More than 1,500 747 planes have been produced since its introduction more than 50 years ago. About 200 passenger planes remain in service, along with almost 300 freight-only aircraft. A 747-400 version, like the Orient Thai plane, would cost US$240 million brand new.
A fully operational 747 would fetch US$3 million, said Peter Huijbers, a former aircraft leasing executive who runs advisory firm PH Aviation Asia.
"I see no real value to seek to bring one back to the sky given all the hurdles faced on the Orient Thai aircraft," Huijbers said. "(But) I would assume there is sufficient spare capacity on the market for the old B747 aircraft (parts), so little point scrapping it."
With the hair-raising landings at Hong Kong's old Kai Tak airport, shots of 747s passing closely over Kowloon rooftops on approach made for stunning photography.
Now the old airport is being redeveloped and part of the old runway has become home to a cruise terminal and an aviation-themed park.
A Jetstream 141 fixed-wing plane, formerly a Government Flying Service plane, flown for 17 years, was retired at Kai Tak Runway Park " a nod to the location's aviation heritage.
Javier Sampedro said Kai Tak could become a home to retired planes and converted into a museum to pull in more visitors.
Cathay Pacific retired its last 747 passenger plane in 2016 after carrying 160 million passengers on them over 37 years of flight.
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