Republica Argentina 737-5H6, T-04, (c/n 26456/2527) lands at Buenos Aires Aeroparque (AEP) on 15Aug14. Note that the thrust reversers were deployed even before the nosewheel touched the ground, not a rare occurence but not very common either. (Phil Perry Photo)
The same aircraft as Aerolineas Argentinas LV-AYE taxiing out for a flight at Aeroparque on 18Sep10. (Phil Perry Photo)
Former Aerolineas Argentinas 737-5H6, LV-AYE, (c/n 26456/2527) recently joined the Fuerza Aerea Argentina "Agrupacion Aerea Presidencial" (Argentine Air Force Presidential Flight) reportedly replacing one of the Flight's aging Fokker F.28's.
The aircraft was originally delivered to Malaysian Airlines on 29Sep93 as 9M-MFF and served briefly with Jet Airways in 1998 before joining Air France as F-GJNY on 10Dec99. The 737-500 finally went to Aerolineas Argentinas on 11Oct04 as LV-AYE where it flew until 29Mar12 when it was ferried to San Juan (UAQ) in northwestern Argentina for storage the following month. On 18Dec12 it was ferried to Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE) where it was stored in a hangar until recently.
Aerolineas was due to return LV-AYE to its owner, lessor GECAS, but the cost of work necessary on the airframe prior to its return, including a major check, exceeded the value of the aircraft itself, estimated at US$ 1.75 million, so GECAS agreed to sell the plane to Aerolineas.
The cost to the Argentine government of preparing the aircraft for its new role was apparently US$ 3 million, including installing a new interior with three sections; a VIP cabin for the president, another area for government ministers plus 54 seats for other travelers. Seats from ex-Aerolineas 737-287 LV-JTD (c/n 20523/285) which served briefly as an executive charter aircraft, were reportedly used for at least some of the conversion.
The 737-500, still wearing registration LV-AYE, performed test flights from EZE on 16Apr14 and 23Apr14, entering a hangar at EZE soon thereafter for the conversion to the VIP interior.
By 08May14 painting of the aircraft in the "Republica Argentina" colors was complete. It was still wearing the LV-AYE registration but its new "T-04" air force designation was reportedly applied in early June.
Aerolineas Argentinas will reportedly maintain the aircraft.
The 737-500 will be a lot cheaper to fly to the southern Argentina homes of current president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner than the main presidential aircraft, 757-23A, T-01, (c/n 25487/470).
Other aircraft in the presidential fleet include two Fokker F-28's, T-02 (c/n 11203) and T-03 (c/n 11028), both over 40 years old, and a Learjet, T-10 (c/n 60-140). Both of the F-28's have been out of service for significant lengths of time due to their age; T-02 did not fly for 2.5 years with an unserviceable automatic pilot and T-03 is currently on the ground with engine problems. This was part of the reason for acquiring LV-AYE for the presidential fleet.
Indeed, the editors of Linea ALA have commented that it is surprising that other retired Aerolineas Argentinas 737-500's were not used to replace the numerous aging Fokker F.28's of the Argentine Air Force, Navy and Presidential Flight. According to Linea ALA, it would have been "coherent and appropriate in economic and operational terms".
Additional Photos of LV-AYE / T-04: