The sale of five Korean Air aircraft to US company Sierra Nevada suggests that a derivative of the Boeing 747-8I could replace the US Air Force’s E-4B “Doomsday” aircraft.

According to an 8 May stock exchange filing in South Korea, Korean will sell five aircraft to Sierra Nevada for W918 billion ($671 million). The filing indicates that the jets will be disposed of on 30 September 2025.

KOrean 747-8-c-Boeing

Source: Boeing

Korean Air took delivery of its first 747-8I in 2015

The carrier declines to comment on the specific aircraft type involved in the transaction. It says that the sale is consistent with its fleet planning, under which it will phase out “our previous-generation fleet to introduce new, next-gen aircraft”.

A report from news agency Reuters, however, cites an unnamed source as saying that the five aircraft are 747-8Is.

Cirium fleets data indicates that Korean has nine in-service 747-8Is with an average age of 8.1 years. Of these, five examples are owned by Korean, with the other four owned by undisclosed parties.

Korean’s disclosure comes two weeks after the USAF awarded Sierra Nevada a $13 billion contract to replace the E-4Bs under the Survivable Airborne Operations Center (SAOC) programme.

FlightGlobal has contacted Sierra Nevada for comment.

The E-4B is a derivative of the 747-200 and is intended to serve as a survivable leadership command post, capable of directing the USA’s nuclear arsenal from a survivable, highly mobile platform.

It is probable that the USAF prefers a four-engined aircraft such as the 747 for the SAOC requirement, as this would offer a better safety margin than an aircraft based on a twinjet, such as a 777. 

The average age of the USAF’s fleet of four E-4Bs is 50.1 years.

In a 2021 interview with FlightGlobal, Korean chief executive Walter Cho had said that the 747-8Is would serve with the carrier until 2031.

In early April, Korean shed light on its future widebody fleet, confirming orders for 33 Airbus A350s, covering 27 -1000s and six -900s. Korean also has orders for A321neos, as well as 787-9s and -10s, and 737 Max 8s.