The House Armed Services Committee has recommended that the Air Force, and perhaps the president and Congress, try flying Freddie Laker--or at least on the airplanes once owned by the British entrepreneur.
When Laker Airlines went bankrupt in 1982, the Export-Import Bank repossessed five DC10 jet transports, which it had helped finance.
The bank, which has $147 million tied up in the planes, has been looking for a buyer for them. Meanwhile, the Air Force has been looking for a cost-effective way to replace its aging Special Air Mission fleet, a group of specially configured passenger aircraft that includes Air Force One, the president's plane. The fleet is used by top administration officials and by congressional delegations for travel inside and outside the United States.
The Armed Services Committee report on the fiscal 1984 defense authorization bill, released last month, "invites the Air Force to submit a reprogramming request to finance the purchase of the planes."
Late last year, committee sources said, Air Force officials sounded out some members on their probable reaction if the service were to buy the Laker aircraft at cut-rate prices. The planes were to be used, it was explained, to replace the military versions of the Boeing 707 that make up the special mission fleet.
Coincidentally, the Air Force last year also officially declared that "a statement of need" existed for replacement of the special mission fleet. In its report, the committee said the present aircraft "are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain away from base on high priority missions because the engines and air frames have been out of production for a considerable period of time."
An Air Force spokesman said Friday that the service had "not requested the House language" that appeared in the report. The Air Force "would be interested in the planes," the spokesman said, "but only if it did not have to cancel or change any other current Air Force program or any other program pending in the fiscal 1984 budget."
An Ex-Im bank spokesman said the $147 million outstanding on the planes consists of $86 million in direct loans and $61 million in loans by others that the bank guaranteed. The bank would not say how much money it was seeking for the aircraft, which are in storage at an Arizona facility. However, a committee source said a price of less than $30 million per aircraft would be a bargain.
Nonetheless, the Air Force official emphasized that if Congress wanted the special mission fleet to be replaced by Laker aircraft, the legislators would have to come up with additional money before the service would try to buy the planes.