It’s said that one person’s treasure is another person’s trash. This played out last week at King County International Airport (KBFI) in Seattle, where the county oversaw the demolition of what it describes in a media release as a “derelict 727.” According to the release, “A court action last year declared the aircraft a nuisance and allows King County to remove the airplane.”
The 1978 Boeing 727, painted in American Airlines livery and carrying the number N874AA, belonged to the Museum of Flight at KBFI until 2016, when it was signed over to the Airline History Museum (AHM) in Kansas City, Missouri.
According to the AHM website, the AHM planned to ferry the old airliner to the midwest for restoration and display. The AHM has spent the past five years trying to raise the money for the project.
An aircraft title search shows the Boeing 727-223 belongs to Antares Aviation LLC out of Florida. The company took ownership of the aircraft in August 2021. An attempt to reach Antares Aviation was unsuccessful, but according to the AHM, the airliner was destined to be displayed at its museum.
In an email sent to FLYING, John Roper, the president of the AHM alleges that King County did not send the required invoices for payment for parking space rent, and demanded a cost-prohibitive amount of insurance in order for volunteer mechanics to access KBFI and the aircraft. This rendered those mechanics unable to get the aircraft ready for relocation, he says.
The County Responds
Barbara Ramey, senior communications specialist from King County, says the county has a different version of events. According to Ramey, the AHM entered into a rental agreement with the county on April 1, 2017.
“The last successful rent payment was in 2018,” she says, noting that the AHM presently owes approximately $17,000 in back rent.
Parking spaces for narrow-body jets at KBFI rent for $314 a month, and space is at a premium.
How We Got Here
In August 2020, the county filed an injunction in King County Superior Court giving the AHM 90 days to restore the aircraft to airworthiness, remove it from KBFI, and pay the back rent owed.
When this did not happen, the court declared the 727 a nuisance. According to the complaint, “should the Defendant fail to bring the aircraft into compliance within the above deadlines set by this court, King County is hereby authorized under this order to abate the violations and the sheriff of King County hereby directed to have the aircraft removed from BFI and sold for scrap as necessary to resolve the violations.”
The judgement was in favor of the county for $8,045.84. The county put the scrapping project out to bid last spring.
Roper asserts the AHM’s efforts to pay the rent and make the aircraft airworthy for a ferry flight were blocked by KBFI’s Airport duty manager, Matt Sykora.
“Matt signed an affidavit to the court that the aircraft is unairworthy, but he is not a mechanic or qualified to determine airworthiness,” Roper states. “He also rejected valid signed/stamped FAA documents as acceptable. For instance, he said the current FAA airworthiness certificate carried on the aircraft as required by regulation was not real or valid in his opinion.
“BFI made it clear during negotiations that they don’t care about the rent, they just want the airplane removed. We agreed to pay any claimed fees once access to the aircraft was granted. They refused to give a current statement of fees to be paid, thus, how could any alleged rent be paid to make it current? They also stated that even if we paid rent, they would still proceed with scrapping the aircraft and not allow access.”
FLYING reached out to Sykora for his response and he referred us back to Ramey, who denied Roper’s claims.
“The airport has no authority over an airworthiness certificate. The airport checked with the FAA, and they said the plane was not currently airworthy. The FAA FSDO office determined that repairs needed to be made to the aircraft before a ferry permit could be issued,” Ramey says.
According to the Seattle Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), in order to acquire a ferry permit, the aircraft had to be inspected by an FAA-designated airworthiness representative, who would determine what actions, if any, would need to be implemented for the decades-old airliner to be issued a ferry permit.
After the inspection, the list of needed repairs is typically made available to the aircraft owner so that repairs can be made. It is unclear if such a list was created as neither the aircraft owner nor Bruce Kitelinger, the designated airworthiness representative from the Seattle FSDO who allegedly performed the inspection, responded to FLYING queries.
Too Little, Too Late
The AHM took to the courts to prevent KBFI from scrapping the aircraft, filing a subpoena dated November 8, 2021. The subpoena called for the preservation of the aircraft until December 6.
Ramey notes that the county received a subpoena “duces tecum,” which directs the recipient to appear before the court and produce documents, or in this instance, to permit inspection of the aircraft. However, this “does not have the effect of negating or even temporarily abrogating the existing court order that had long-before adjudged the aircraft a nuisance and directed its demolition,” Ramey states.
In other words: too little, too late.
Supporters of the AHM took to social media to express dismay and outrage over the destruction of N874AA, accusing King County of destroying a historically significant aircraft—this is also up for debate.
Ramey says that according to the Museum of Flight, the aircraft “has no demonstrated historical value.” The AHM counters the 727 is part of the rich history of airline travel as it was one of the first jet airliners.
Supporters say that although the aircraft is piles of scrap, the issue is far from over, and the battle will likely continue to be fought in the courtroom rather than on the ramp.