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MEBA: WikiLeaks and the case of the CRJs in limbo

The now infamous WikiLeaks releases have a close connection to this week's Middle East Business Aviation show here: a January 2010 confidential cable between the US consulate in Dubai and Washington DC.

Titled "RAK Airport Sleepy, but with Residual Russian connection", the cable discusses efforts by Ras Al Khaimah International airport, 80km (50 miles) north-east of Dubai, to better its reputation.

According to a former airport chief executive, the facility has been suffering from a less than flattering connection to suspected Russian "international arms trafficker and [United Nations] sanctions target Victor Bout", who either had or was linked to several aircraft or operations based there, including one called Wing Air Services. The cable notes that the airport has employed six different chief executives since 2006.


 Credit: Google Maps

The link with the MEBA show is the discussion about apparently abandoned Bombardier products at the single-runway field. During a tour of the airport with the US official, the former airport boss "also pointed out as suspect two new Bombardier CRJ jets worth $50 million abandoned by their owners immediately after they arrived", the cable reads. The chief executive said the owners are "impossible to reach, although sporadically maintenance people show up".

Google Maps shows two identical CRJs parked in a semi-circular ramp, appearing to be a storage area, with identical paint schemes. The date of the Google images is not specifically stated, but is identified as 2010.

A man who answered the phone at the airport confirmed that the two CRJs remain at the airfield, and have been there for about 18 months. He says they are VIP configured and belong to a company called Nur-Avia. Nur-Avia is a venture set up by the Russian government in 2006 to help troubled state-owned airline Air Tatarstan. Bombardier says the aircraft are CRJ conversions, which are third-party refurbishments of retired airline CRJs.

"Despite its lack of passenger traffic, RAK airport is looking for opportunities to grow, such as focusing on cargo and drawing in legitimate clients," the cable ends.

"However, it seems that it will not be an easy road ahead as it still has to deal with legacy issues such as the Wing Air services aircraft, a grounded RAK Airways, and semi-abandoned jets with unreachable owners."

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