Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi departs New York aboard his personal Afriqiyah Airways A340-200, 5A-ONE, following the 2009 United Nations General Assembly. (Photo by Eric Dunetz)
Every year in late September, just as Autumn’s first chilly winds begin to sweep across the northeast in a battle to drive out Summer’s last throes of sunny warmth, planespotters gather along the breezy banks of New York’s Jamaica Bay to witness one of the hobby’s greatest spectacles.
The yearly session of the United Nations General Assembly is without a doubt the greatest congregation of the planet’s leaders. Practically all of these dignitaries arrive aboard VIP aircraft, many of which are rarely—if ever—seen in North America. Some of them probably have not left their home country since the previous year’s Assembly. And nearly all of these planes, arriving from every corner of the globe, descend into the modern gateway to America, John F. Kennedy International Airport.
If rarity is the planespotter’s ice cream, UN General Assembly week is like the greatest sundae ever made.
Aside from their generally nationalistic paint schemes, most of these planes are visually indistinguishable from an airliner that one might board to take a weekend jaunt to Las Vegas or to visit grandma in West Palm Beach. And herein lies the one of the essences of planespotting: Observing—actually cherishing—differences in objects that are for the most part identical. Take, as an example, the most prolific airliner in service today, the Boeing 737. A planespotter can see one of the thousands of 737s operating airline flights at any hour at practically any major airport on the planet. But of the 4,500 very similar 737s currently in service, there is only one that reads “Equatorial Guinea” on the fuselage, and the only place you’ll see it in the Western Hemisphere is at JFK during UN General Assembly week.
Furthermore, many of the types of aircraft flown by visiting dignitaries are unique to Americans, as well. Leaders from Russia and Ukraine were flown in on three different types of Soviet-era Ilyushin aircraft, IL-68, IL-72 and IL-96, none of which have been seen regularly in the U.S. since Aeroflot upgraded their transatlantic fleet to western aircraft.
Some leaders fly aboard American-built airliners considered relics in the modern age. The President of Gambia, for example, uses a Boeing 727—a type that was state of the art in the early-1970s, but most were retired by American carriers by the early 2000s. His particular plane, registration C5-GAF, was delivered to the long defunct Northeast Airlines 43 years ago, and subsequently flown across the US filled with paying passengers for decades.
About This List
Listed here are all of the 2009 United Nations General Assembly VIP aircraft arrivals that we are aware of. The list does not include dignitaries who arrived on regularly scheduled flights, and it is probably missing some who chartered planes that are regular visitors to New York.
“File Photo” indicates the photo was taken during a previous year’s UN Assembly or somewhere else completely. If you have one from this year that you’d let us use, please contact us at email@example.com.
Many thanks to Senga Butts for his assistance in compiling this list, and all of the photographers whose work we feature below.
This list is apolitical and offers no judgment or critique of any of the visitors. It is simply a log of aircraft that planespotters may find interesting.
No dignitaries were harmed during the compilation of this list, and no laws were broken while gathering this information.