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A Weird Internet Fight Is Unfolding in Malaysia Around Three Allegedly Abandoned Airplanes

posted: 12/14/15
by: Danny Clemens
Abandoned airplane in Malaysia
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One of the three Boeing 747-200Fs sits on the tarmac in Malaysia.
Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

A Malaysia-based cargo airline has claimed responsibility for three jumbo jets that sat on the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for half a decade -- but it took a while to get to this point.

Authorities at Kuala Lumpur International Airport recently placed a newspaper ad giving the owner of the three jets one last chance to remove their property before the airport claims possession of the derelict assets to pay back outstanding fees.

In a news release, airport officials explained that the three aircraft have sat on the tarmac since mid-2010. The Boeing 747-200Fs were registered to Air Atlanta Icelandic, a leasing company that canceled the jumbo jets' registration and transferred ownership to China-based Shaanxi Sunshine Cargo.

Malaysia Airports, the body that operates KLIA, was in communication with Shaanxi Sunshine Cargo until the company went radio silent around 2013. Research indicates that that carrier, too, ceased operations suddenly, and it was not immediately clear who now controls the company's assets.

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"As a responsible airport operator, Malaysia Airports undertakes to verify all claims of aircraft ownership with the relevant authorities," Malaysia Airports General Manager Tuan Haji Zainol Mohd Isa says in a news release. "We urge the rightful owner to furnish us with the required information for verification purposes."

Just when it looked like Malaysia Airports could finally repossess the planes, sell them and let us all move on with our lives, a small, local airline came in and threw a wrench into the story.

In a news release that reads like an aviation-themed celebrity Twitter feud, SWIFT Air Cargo, a Kuala Lumpur-based carrier, unexpectedly claimed possession of the mysterious trio, which had since garnered international attention on social media.

"SWIFT Air Cargo, is the owner and SWIFT very much has not forgotten its (3) B747's parked at KLIA!" the company says.

The carrier points out that it is not uncommon for several different entities to be in charge of the ownership, operation, storage and maintenance of an aircraft, which occasionally creates confusion and results in miscommunication.

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SWIFT ultimately claims that it has the legal documents to assert ownership over the planes and, toward the end of an unusually long release, calls out Malaysia Airports for sharing "somewhat inaccurate" information and igniting international interest in the story.

"SWIFT is understandably very concerned when Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad declares to the world that 'exhaustive steps' were taken to find a contact person, yet SWIFT has been meeting with MAHB on a consistent basis," the airline begins.

"The last meeting occurred on October 12, 2015 with both the Chief Operating Officer and the General Manager present. Since then, SWIFT and MAHB have been communicating with letters and we were waiting for yet another meeting to present more documentation and information as requested by MAHB, when instead MAHB announced to the world that the owner of the (3) B747's was missing.

"Based on this evidence, SWIFT is unable to fathom the reason for MAHB's declaration that it has taken 'exhaustive steps' without being able to find a 'contact person' when all along, SWIFT was fulfilling its obligations."

The mystery may be solved, but it looks like the drama is just beginning.

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