Cargo operations Egyptian style
by Jan Koppen
It's about four hours after midnight in November 1985 and I'm standing on the vast freight apron of Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport in Holland. Cold rain is lightly drizzling down, from the threatening dark, water-filled clouds. While working my regular nightshift, I interrupted my overloaded schedule in order to catch up with some action on the freight ramp. In front, I see some familiar silhouettes of the classic large turbofan-powered Boeing 707, vaguely lit by the shimmering yellow ramp flood lights. Looking across the tarmac, I see several 707s parked together, some of them barely visible due to absence of enough light .... surely a delightful view considering the dwindling numbers of 707s throughout the world during the mid-80s of the former century.
Just in front of me, Avio Presto ground-handlers are loading one of these dependable 707s with outward-bound cargo. The classic lines of the big Boeing are so evident when standing close to this four-engine transport. The overall sight of the giant bird commands deep respect from the onlooker. This aircraft is Boeing 707-328C Intercontinental Jet Freighter SU-DAA, c/n. 19916, of Zarkani Aviation Service, of Cairo, Egypt. This former 1968-built Air France 707 entered her career with Zarkani during November ‘82. With Air France, she operated under registration, F-BLCK. During this period, she held the name Chateaux de Langedoc. During her sale in November 1982, F-BLCK received a brand-new coat of paint in appealing and glamorous colors of Zarkani Aviation Service.
The fuselage consisted of a dark and light blue trim, running along the whole side of the aircraft. Her all-white tail sported the big ‘Z’ in bold blue letters. During this her career with Zarkani she held the appropriated name ‘Suez’, after the famous canal running north to south of the Egyptian landscape.
Now, Avio Presto ground handlers are preparing SU-DAA for her up-coming nightly freight run to Cairo. Flight line maintenance is supplied by Aircraft Maintenance Amsterdam (AMA). Their regular technical support keeps this 707 flying under all conditions. With the last freight pallet moved into the 707, the high loader is disconnected, and the huge hydraulic freight-door is slowly closing into its locked position. The 707 is ready and the forward ramp stair is pushed aside. Under the nose section, the AMA ground engineer is conversing with the flight crew through his headset, attached at the forward interphone jack-plug. Inside the cockpit the crew is preparing the aircraft for engine start-up. At the same time, the blue Hobart starter, which is responsible for the pressured air, is connected to the 707 starboard wing roots. The ground engineer signals the starter operator to increase the air pressure output. Immediately, the starter's low hum brutally changes into a high pitch blare. Highly compressed air is forwarded through the hose and, in turn, forces the second stage compressor blades, which are hidden within the enormous turbofan engines, slung under the 707 streamlined pylons, to accelerate to idle power. Moments later, kerosene flows into the combustion chamber and simultaneously the igniter plugs are being fired. with a small explosion in the engine hot section, number three comes alive. The raging gas is rammed backward. Slowly the engine starts to suck massive air quantities through its main intake and secondary inlet doors in order to maintain necessary thrust.
As the engine starts to settle down at idle power, the 707's familiar high-pitch howling starts to fill the upper level of my hearing senses. As engine numbers 4, 2 and 1 are started in sequence, torrents of hot gas built up behind the 707. Quickly, the starter is disconnected, while the nosewheel chocks are also removed. With a puff of black smoke, the monstrous weary looking, but powerful Hough push-back truck starts to push the heavy-laden jet backward. Meanwhile the ground engineer is walking alongside the 707's nose, ready to report any technical snag to the flight crew during the push-back. As the 707 slowly moves away, she disappears from the bright, ramp floodlights.
The jet is positioned with its tail toward the freight-building. Quickly, one of the ground crew disconnects the tug from the forward undercarriage and drives away with the Hough, leaving the senior ground engineer alone with the Boeing on the middle of the freight apron. The ground engineer unplugs himself, secures the panel and walks to a proper position for visual contact with the flight crew. With a resolute "thumbs-up signal", the engineer indicates that everything is OK, and that the Boeing is ready to go. As a friendly gesture, the flight crew flashes the 707s taxi-lights several times, thanking the ground support for their help. Simultaneously and with a sudden roar, the four turbofan engines increase power to give the 707-forward momentum. As the hot exhaust gasses are blasted backward out the engines, they are caught by the jet fences, to prevent doing any harm! Propelled by herculean power, the 707 stirred itself, the silver swept-back wings swaying, as she begins to roll onto the taxiway.
After a lengthy taxi, which leads the jet through a maze of blue and green ground lights, she finally reaches the holding point of the active runway. The 707-331C points its nose towards the long ribbon of lights, spread out in front of her. She lines up and holds, in preparation of her airborne venture. With the sudden stop of the 707, I pause to look at my watch and realize that it's already five o'clock in the morning, an ungodly hour to be standing here in the cold, wet breeze of the early spring showers. Suddenly sound rises to a furious level, the 707s turbofans roar with greater authority. From each engine, volcanic hot gases hurtle rearward with tremendous velocity. All four engines give maximum thrust. With a sudden shock the silver jet, now free from the restraint of her brakes, responds to the insisting demand of her four engines. Slowly she starts to build up speed. With already 2000 feet behind her, the 707 steadily accelerates her pace. Still bounded by the earth's gravitational forces, the jet races down the runway at about 170 miles per hour.
Then the magnificent white bird responds to the invisible demand of air flowing along her massive wings. With the nose gear tilted up from the runway and her tail section slowly dropping to the concrete, the jet stars to rise. For a moment the 707 hurtles along nose high, the silver bird momentarily clamped to earth, but seeming eagerly to sniff at the sky. As the 707 quickly gains height, the tricycle landing gear starts to disappear into its undercarriage bays. Finally, with a clean configuration, the 707 starts to feel her way in her natural element. As the jet starts to fade away, I can still see the double green-red wingtip and anti-collision lights flashing in the heavy cloud cover. With the roar of the engines slowly dying, the 707 finds its way through the darkened skies.
I saw and remember many Zarkani 707's at AMS and flying, often heavily overloaded, west out of the airport and over my house in Hoofddorp. Believe it or not; - the glassware was singing in the kitchen cabinet caused by the high pitch blare of the powerful Pratt & Whitney JT3D's.
As an airport hound in my younger years, I saw and remember many, many Zarkani 707's at AMS, on Schiphol-East ramp, and also flying west out of the field and over my house in Hoofddorp. This encouraged me to write an article about this mysterious company and subsequently I interviewed Mr. Jaffer Jan, who was the station manager for Zarkani in Europe. I also spoke to Mr. Jacques Sol, who was a sale representative for the airline.
Zarkani Aviation Services (ZAS) was founded in the early eighties by two brothers, Sheriff and Emir Zarkani, businessmen from Cairo, who already owned their own travel agency in Cairo and at the airport of Cairo already had their own handling company with clients, such as German Cargo and Martinair.
Besides these businesses they also owned large pieces land which they inherited from their father who was a rich landowner. On these lands mainly green beans were cultivated. The Zarkani brothers saw this ever-larger load of vegetables (especially beans) transported from Cairo to the Netherlands an opportunity and started their own airline under the name ZAS Airline of Egypt in November 1982.
The first aircraft for the new airline was former Air France Boeing 707-328C F-BLCK (c/n. 19916) . She was sprayed in full Zarkani colors at Paris-Orly and handed over to ZAS Airline of Egypt with registration SU-DAA and named “Suez”, on November 13, 1982. To solve several technical issues she was flown from Orly to Aviation Traders (ATEL) on Stansted. On November 23, the first flight was carried out and the aircraft was flown from Stansted to Schiphol to perform the first commercial flight from Cairo at Schiphol two days later. With this 707 a scheduled service was started between Cairo and Amsterdam, which was flown twice a week (Monday and Thursday).
Freight volumes were such that within four months ZAS needed a second freighter. Again a Boeing 707 from Air France was purchased. This was F-BLCG (c/n. 19521) . She was put into operation in March 1983 as the SU-DAB.
A year later, the fleet was further expanded with a third Boeing 707. Former British Airtours Boeing 707 G-AVPB (c/n 19843) was bought and registrated SU-DAC. Almost daily flights were now carried out between Cairo and Schiphol, with over 1500 tons transported per month. With trio, many flights were also carried out for other carriers, such as KLM, Martinair, Alia, Air India and Finnair.
This prosperity led to the purchase of a fourth Boeing 707, the SU-DAD, in January 1985. This ship was purchased from aircraft broker Guess Keen & Needle Fond and was the former British Airways 707 G-AYLT (c/n. 20517).
In April 1986, a fifth Boeing 707 followed, the SU-DAE. This ship was purchased from Tratco and was a former Qantas machine (c/n 19622).
In 1986, three Lockheed L-1329 Jetstars were added to the fleet. These aircraft were purchased in West Germany and were employed by the Luftwaffe. They were acquired by the Zarkani brothers with a large quantity of components. The Jetstars were delivered between December 1986 and January 1987. The delivery flights routed from Hamburg-Lemwerder to Amsterdam Schiphol. The biz jets were registrated SU-DAF (ex 11 + 01, c/n. 5025), SU-DAY (ex 11 +-2, c/n. 5121) and SU-DAH (ex 11 + 03, c/n. 5071).
The Lockheed Jetstars were a first step towards start passenger flights. They were mainly purchased by the Zarkani’s to test how in Egypt government would be responded to this fleet and task expansion. The Jetstars were offered immediately after delivery on the business market and were equipped with 10 seats.
SU-DAG and SU-DAH brotherly side by side resting on Schiphol's concrete on a beautiful day in the late 80's.
Photo credit: Paul K. from the Netherlands
At the end 1986 Zarkani brothers made an clandestine deal with Muammar Gaddafi, the once dictator of Libya. Due a US embargo Mr. Gaddafi could not buy spare parts for his Libyan Arab Airlines Boeing 707 fleet. To get his 707 fleet operational again, Zarkani 707’s were fitted with legal new Boeing parts, during their regular technical maintenance at Stansted and were flown to Tripoli with a stop in Cairo. In Tripoli the 707 were awaited by Libyan Arab mechanics and the new parts were removed from the Zarkani 707’s and donated to the Libyan Arab 707 fleet. This procedure went on some time and was a win-win situation for both Boeing, ATEL, Gaddafi and of course the Zarkani brothers.
The Boeing 707 fleet of Libyan Arab Airlines, consisting of six combi passengers/cargo machines (5A-DLT c/n. 18686, 5A-DIZ c/n. 18746, 5A-DIK c/n. 18881, 5A-DJS c/, 18888, 5A-DIY c/n. 19001 and 5A-DJV c/n. 19590). It seemed that, at a certain moment, the Zarkani brothers had purchased all the Libyan Arab 707’s. Two of them were added to the ZAS fleet as the SU-DAI (ex 5A-DJV) and SU-DAJ (ex 5A-DLT). The other machines were sold directly or lease-out.
With this considerable fleet of freighter ZAS operated to towns like; Addis Ababa, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Khartoum, Larnaka, Mogadishu, Muscat, New-York, Paris and Sharjah.
In 1987, Zarkani Air Services was authorized to carry out passenger flights. This started with the execution of a line service network between Cairo and the tourist centers of Luxor, Aswan, Hurghadi, Sharm El Sheikh and Abu Simpel and transporting tourists from Egypt to Europe and with flights to Jeddah.
During the end of the 80’s, the fleet of seven cargo Boeing 707s was too large for the company and four aircraft were sold. First the Boeing 707 SU-DAJ was sold in May 1987 to Boeing as the N83658 and used for the KC-135 parts program at Davis Montan.
SU-DAJ was followed by SU-DAD, which in November 1987 departed for Air Hong Kong as VR-HKK. In 1988, SU-DAI left for Okada Air in Nigeria as 5N-AOO. SU-DAE was sold to Nile Safaris Aviation of Sudan as ST-ALL.
The remaining three B-707's were equipped with Hush-kits in 1987 at Santa Barbara. This was carried out to meet the US aviation requirements as well. SU-DAB was also equipped to be able to fly passengers in addition to cargo. However, this aircraft was not long in service at ZAS. On 19 January 1989, this 707 was sold to the Equator Bank, which directly leased the aircraft to Naganagani as XT-BBF.
In the early 90’s only SU-DAA and SU-DAC were still serving ZAS faithfully. Like many other independent cargo operators, also ZAS Boeing 707’s were used for transporting war materials for the Allied forces during the first Gulf War. A lot of money was made during these days which fed the Swiss bank accounts of the Zarkani brothers considerably.
But the Gulf War of 1990/1991 caused a sharp decrease in the number of passengers on the flights to and from Egypt and from the end of 1993 ZAS passenger fleet was phased out. The financial situation of ZAS deteriorated rapidly and on April 3, 1995 all activities were discontinued.
In the settlement of the bankruptcy all appliances owned by ZAS were offered for sale. Flagship SU-DAC, which had been chained at Schiphol-Oost in July 31, 1993, due lack of payment to several creditors. She was auctioned on September 05, 1993 on the initiative of one of the most important creditors, the Liberian Greyfin Corporations. The financing company had an amount of 1.7 million dollar credit from ZAS. It was expected that the execution of the Boeing 707 yielded less than a million dollars in view of the poor state of the longest seized airplane at Schiphol airplane. Eventually the 707 was purchased and patched-up by mechanics of Air Memphis. Finally she departed Schiphol, three years later on March 04, 1996, under flightnumber MPS999, from runway 01L. Destination was Ostend. She became Air Memphis first 707 and was registrated SU-PBA.
Air Memphis would also buy the other 707, SU-DAA, a year later. She became SU-PBB.
The Lockheed L-1329 Jetstar fleet had also been on sale for some time in the 90’s. Eventually, Jetstar SU-DAH was sold and was registered ST-PRE. Also SU-DAY was sold to serve as a spare part source. The third Jetstar SU-DAF was left behind on Cairo.
For the Zarkani brothers, the aviation activities were discontinued and then focused mainly on the handling of ship loads (containers) in Egypt. Later on they returned in the aviation handling business at Cairo.
The classic lines of the big Boeing are so evident when standing close to this four-engine transport. The overall sight of the giant bird commands deep respect from the onlooker. Zarkani Boeing SU-DAA at the Avio Presto ramp in the mid 80's.
ZAS Airline of Egypt former flagship SU-DAA (c/n. 19916) rolled-off the Boeing production line in 1968 and was delivered to Air France as F-BLCK in December of that year. After 14 years of faithful service with the French national carrier she was sold to ZAS Airline of Egypt in November 1982 and registered SU-DAA. In mid ’92 she was impounded at Amsterdam Schiphol and parked in a remote corner of the airport next to KLM’s hangar 11. In January 1993, after more than six months of storage, she was patched-up again and ferried to Cairo. In November she was sold to Air Memphis and registrated SU-PBB. During their service, this workhorse was damaged at Ostend, Belgium on August 19, 1998. She served this Egyptian airline for some more years. Her last revenue flight with Air Memphis was in June 2003. The 707-freighter was stored at Cairo and was eventually broken-up.
The overaged blue/white Merceders Benz starter, which is responsible for the pressured air, is connected to the 707 starboard wing roots. The ground engineer signals the starter operator to increase the air pressure output. Immediately, the starter's low hum brutally changes into a high pitch blare.
Another museum piece is this Mercedes Jetstarter, supplying pressured air to one of the Zarkani's Boeing 707's at the Schiphol-East ramp.
Finally, with a clean configuration, the 707 starts to feel her way in her natural element.
AviaTrading's outdated Volvo Jetstarter is seen here parked next Zarkani's SU-DAA at the Schiphol-East ramp.
AviaTrading, which was situated in a former KLM Cargo warehouse from 50s, was a shady handling company in the 70/80s. Due to their relative cheap handling rates and flexible working methods, the company which was directed by Mr. Moorman and his sun (Mr. Moorman owned Moormanair in the late 60s) attracted many dubious cargo airlines.
SU-DAB is seen here arriving at Amsterdam's runway 18L (now 19C) from Cairo with another load of beans
This Boeing 707-328C, c/n. 19521, which was manufactured in 1967, enjoyed a long and various career. After 16 years of faithful service with first owner Air France as F-BLCG, she was sold in March 1983 to ZAS Airline of Egypt and registrated SU-DAB. They were just one of the dozen employers of this 707. After ZAS she operated respectively for Nile Safaris (ST-AKR), Naganagani (XT-BBF), Homac-Tradewinds (HB-IEI), Avistar-KJA (5B-DAZ), Azerbaijan airlines (4K-BEK) and again Avistar but this time on Ghana register (9G-ROX). Many of them were shady cargo operators. I personally witnessed that the 707’s registration HB-IEI was sprayed over to 5B-DAZ by employees of Avistar on the ramp of Amsterdam. The plane left Amsterdam to an undisclosed destination. Next day a British crew appeared at Amsterdam only to find out that their aircraft had disappeared. On February 07, 1999, her last blow of fate came into sight when she was damaged while she overran the Bratislava runway during an aborted take-off after engines 2 and 3 failed. After a full investigation it appeared that the aircraft had many overdue faults. The unfortunate 707 was not repaired and during 2005 she was broken-up completely.
SU-DAB basking in the summer sun of 1989 at Schiphol-East.
Avistar, the final owner of the former ZAS Boeing 707 freighter SU-DAB, had leased the aircraft with registration 9G-FOX, to a Belgian charter broker. Around June 1998 she operated fish charter flights between Mwanza and Vienna. The aircraft was in fact seen on many other airports, Bratislava, Ostrava, and Lumumbashi for instance. At the time of the accident the plane is understood to have had a long list of 32 faults that needed urgent repair. Problems included a limited EGT of no. 1 and 4 engines; no. 3 engine constant speed drive (CSD) gearbox was consuming a 'massive amount of oil'; no. 1 engine CSD generator missing; no. 2 engine required bleed on takeoff and above FL330; left wing leading edge cracked and leaking; no. 4 fuel tank and reserve tank gauge not working. On February 7, around midnight, the plane was to fly to N'Djamena. During the takeoff roll the no. 2 and 3 engines failed. The takeoff was aborted, but the 707 overran the runway and came to rest 200 meter past the runway end.
SU-DAC with in the background the 707 freighter of National Air Carriers from Zambia. Due to their relative cheap handling rates and flexible working methods, AviaTrading attracted many dubious cargo airlines.
In hands of BOAC this G-AVPB registrated Boeing 707-379C, c/n. 19843, crossed to North Atlantic numerous times in the 60/70's. BOAC became British Airways in 1974. They transferred the Boeing in February 1984 to ZAS airline of Egypt and registered SU-DAC. Her career with ZAS lasted for 11 years year before she was sold to Air Memphis as SU-PBA. The stay with this outfit only lasted from September 1995 till March 10, 1998 when she crashed after take-off at Mombasa.
SU-DAD is seen here at ATEL - Stansted waiting for things to come.
In hands of BOAC this SU-DAD registrated Boeing 707-336C crossed to North Atlantic numerous times in the 70's as G-AYLT. BOAC became British Airways in 1974. They sold the Boeing in November 1981 to GKN Enu Mining in Zaire. This was the start of a very adventurous career. After two years of working of Mining Corp. she was sold ZAS Airline of Egypt and registrated SU-DAD. Only two years she was operated by Egyptian airlines. In November 1987 the 707 was exported to British Crown colony Hong Kong and Air Hong Kong became the owner. The registration VR-HKK adorned her fuselage. Her career with Air Hong Kong lasted five year before she was sold to Phoenix Aviation as 9G-TWO. After three years with this British/Ghanese company year she changed hands again and Simba Air Cargo from Tanzania became the owner. Registration 5Y-SIM was applied to the ship. It appeared that Simba had close ties with arms dealer Victor Bout and consequently lost her landing allowance in Belgium. The stay with this outfit only lasted from March 1995 until March 2000. During the first years of 2000 she worked for the dubious company Air Gulf Falcon as 3D-SGG, 5Y-GFG and finally 3D-GFG. In December 2002 she was exported to Sudan and started to work for Spirit of Sudan. She received the Sudanese registration ST-AQW. In 2008 she transferred to the Sudanese State Aviation. Still with registration ST-AQW she was sold to Mach Avia as 4L-GAS and based in the U.A.E. Unfortunately even for this hard working 707 service life was running out and in January 2010 she was parked in open-storage at Khartoum.
Photo credit: Chris Chen
Zarkani's SU-DAE in front of KLM's cargo warehouse during the late 80's.
This airframe (c/n. 19622) left the factory at Renton in 1968. Originally this Boeing 707-338C has been delivered new to Qantas as VH-EAB. The Australians sold the Boeing in 1977 to Young Cargo of Belgium as OO-YCL and as such I spotted her at Amsterdam Schiphol in the late 70s. After a couple of years with Young Cargo she was sold to Papua New Guinee and became part of the Air Niugini fleet with registration P2-ANA. In July 1985 she went to Iceland as TF-AEC for Air Arctic Iceland who leased this 707 to several operators, such as Surinam Airways, Air Maldives and ZAS Airline of Egypt, who finally bought this freighter during April 1986. She was immediately re-registered SU-DAE but her employment with this ZAS was brief and during the summer of 1988 she arrived in Sudan and started her employment with Nile Safaris Aviation. In May 1990 she was transferred to Avistar, a company which had close ties with Nile Safaris. With Avistar she operated many medical relief flights for the UN. In 1992 her civilian service life was over and she finally ended-up with the US firm Grumman Aerospace with registration N4131G. She became an E-8C J-Star 707 and was finally taken on Strength with the United States Air Force with s/n 92-3289. Today she is on active ANG service.
Flagship SU-DAC, which had been chained at Schiphol-Oost in July 31, 1993, due lack of payment to several creditors.
Former SU-DAC, while operating for Air Memphis as SU-PBA, was carrying a consignment of 34 tons fish from Mwanza to Cairo via Mombasa, The crew took off from Mombasa Moi Airport on Tuesday, March 10, 1998, at 16:31 hrs. The plane struck approach lights following takeoff from runway 03. It then struck a hilly mound, rolled and crashed into the ground. The 707 disintegrated and caught fire. Runway 03 at Mombasa is 10,991ft. long but at the time of the accident the first 2,600ft. of the runway was not available.
Hushkitted SU-DAE is seen here with ATEL at Stansted.
Photo credit: Peter Smithson, August 1987, Stansted
Engineless Zarkani SU-DAI is seen here at Stansted
This 1967 vintage Boeing 707-365C has spent the best part of her life in British hands. With operators such as; British Eagle International, BOAC and British Airways, she flew passenger’s services between the UK and the rest of the world. After 16 years of faithful service with these UK based airlines she was exported to Libya. Jamahiriya and Libyan Arab airlines operated this 707 for a couple of years until US embargo’s brought an end to their operations. During November 1986 she was sold to ZAS Airline of Egypt on to be sold after two years to the Nigerian firm Okada Air as 5N-AOO. Her stay with Okada was very brief as a couple of months later she changed hands and Sovereign Air of Nigeria became the new owner. In October 1988 she was exported to Belgium and Belgian International Air Carries employed the freighter on cargo flight between Belgium and Africa. In 1991 Air Mercury International in Belgium became the new owner. Within six months she was sold to Alia-Royal Jordanian airlines in June 1992 and she became as such a regular visitor to my home airport Schiphol. After this Jordanian adventure she was exported to Argentina and was to be wearing the uniform of Fuerza Aerea Argentina as LV-WXL. During May 2004 her service life was over and she was grounded and stored at El Palomar Airbase.
Photo credit: Chris Chen
This Classic Boeing had its first flight from Renton on January 17, 1964. The 707 was ordered by Air France with registration F-BLCB. Two weeks later she was delivered to the French national carrier. During the following years Air France leased their 707 to airlines like; Air Afrique and Air Madagascar. In April 1983 she was exported to Libya and became part of the Libyan Arab Airlines fleet with registration 5A-DLT. Due a sort of deal the Libyan Arab 707’s changed hands during 1986 and the Zarkani brothers became the new owners. They sold the 707 after a couple of months to the Boeing KC-135 parts programme and the 707 was ferried to Davis-Monthan during May 1987. Around 1991 she was parted-out and scrapped.