The Fight Over Super Connie CF-TGE
This airplane was one of very few , if not the only, surviving
truly commercial (not
ex-military) Lockheed Super G Constellations available in the world. It
with (then) Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) from 1954-1962, and had been
mostly abandoned and derelict since 1965. It was last used as a
restaurant and bar on Toronto airport property.
The Connie is a very
widely admired airplane and would make a great addition to our
collection, which has slowly amassed a series of airplanes that I call
"The Kelly Johnson Collection" - (one of my personal heroes.) This
collection will now include these Kelly Johnson designs: a P-38,
P-80C, Constellation, F-104, SR-71, and the Prototype Jetstar (also
Kelly's personal airplane for 25 years.) See more about Kelly here.
After purchasing the airplane, we (the Seattle Museum of Flight)
disassembled the airplane, moved it
off Toronto airport property, and placed it in storage at a close-by
location. This was done last January - March (2006.)
In the midst of the disassembly, the Toronto Aerospace Museum (TAM)
appealed to the Movable Cultural Properties Board in Ottawa to protest
the export of this airplane from Canada. The Cultural Board sent us a
letter declaring the airplane to be covered by the Cultural and
Heritage laws of Canada, requiring an approved Export Permit.
In May 2006, we
(the Museum of Flight) applied to Canadian Customs in
Vancouver for an Export Permit. Having been declared a Canadian
Cultural Artifact (even though it was designed and built in the United
States), Customs referred the application to a so-called (in this case
VERY "so-called"), Expert Examiner, a man running a business of sorts
out of his house in Calgary. He wrote an ill-informed letter
recommending rejection of our Application, which then occurred.
The full content of his letters, with comments, will be
added as future time permits.
The TAM, meanwhile, having watched the airplane sit and deteriorate
over many years, and just a few miles from their facility, set-up a "Save
Connie" website with a Petition drive, gained about 2000 signatures,
and conducted at least one fund
raiser to raise money to buy the airplane. There was much continuing
news coverage in the Canadian media - the gist being: 'the rich, big,
Americans' are "stealing our culture."
The Museum appealed the Customs decision to the Heritage Board in
Ottawa in accordance with their rules and procedures. In
September, 2006, Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, Museum President and CEO,
personally made the Museum's presentation to the Board in Ottawa. The
opposing party at that hearing was the Calgary so-called "Expert." At
conclusion of the hearing, the Heritage Board decided to again deny the
Museum an Export Permit.
The next stage in this soap opera was the setting of a Fair Market
Value and notification to approved Canadian institutions, to find if
wanted to submit a bid for the airplane. (The Museum was not forced to
accept any bid, since it was our property - only thing is - we
could not export it
from Canada -- Just a little detail!) Both the Museum, and the TAM
(the only interested party in Canada) had appraisals done and
them to the Board.
The Museum spent $300-400K for the airplane and has invested an equal
amount in disassembly, relocation, and legal fees. Our appraisals came
in for about $800-900K. The TAM, in their PR blitz and letter writing
declared this airplane priceless, precious, and irreplaceable,
"We believe the Super
Constellation would be a
magnificent addition to our collection," said Paul Cabot, Curator of
the Toronto Aerospace Museum. "Canadians are
passionate about preserving their aircraft," said Cabot. "My phone has
been ringing every day."
Here's what they told the Heritage Board:
"Junk, junk and more junk!"
"The only monetary value is the going rate of 20,000 lbs of clean scrap
aluminum at between 50 and 75 cents per pound Canadian, without the
costs of scrapping and metal segregation...."
Initially, they had offered the Museum of Flight $100,000 for the
airplane -- Not an attractive offer considering our much more
substantial investment to date.
Subsequently, for the Heritage Board, they valued the aircraft at $25,000, but 'generously'
bumped that figure to $50,000 to cover our expenses to date!
As they say down at the horse auction, I guess it depends on whether
you're buying or selling.
With those two widely divergent valuations in hand, the Heritage Board
set the Fair Market Value between $300,000 and $400,000. The Toronto
Aerospace Museum, as suspected, had no money. (Only, perhaps, in
Canada, can you sit down at the poker table and draw cards from the
dealer with no chips on the table.) Their 'fooling around' - for
that's what it was - cost the Museum of Flight - a reputable, sister institution
- many hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs -- money
which the Museum, like any non-profit organization, is not awash with....
A full analysis of the activities associated with this one year delay will be added in the future.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007, the Heritage Board sent a letter to Canada
Customs instructing them to deliver an Export Permit for the airplane
to the Museum of Flight. Customs issued the Museum an Export Permit on 15 Mar 2007.
After an expensive mid-winter disassembly, and a costly year in
storage, we have begun detailed arrangements with Air Canada to move
the airplane, to enable repairs and
re-painting, followed by road transport to Seattle. The
airplane, which we had hoped to have on display the first week in October
2005, will finally take its place next to the Concorde, Air Force One,
and the other historic airplanes in the Museum's Air Park, perhaps by
early summer 2007.
With this controversy behind us, hopefully the
hardware and logistical issues are the only ones in our future. The
repair, re-paint, transport, and especially the reassembly will be
challenges a plenty.
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Copyright 2007 Robert A. Bogash. All Rights Reserved.