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Ottawa denies export of 'Super Connie' aircraft
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
A battle between Canada and the United States could be brewing over the fate of what's believed to be Canada's last surviving Super Constellation aircraft after a permit to export the plane to a Seattle museum was denied last week.
The 1953 California-built Lockheed aircraft, once the pride of Trans-Canada Air Lines (now Air Canada) fleet, was sold last year to Seattle's Museum of Flight for a reported $50,000 (U.S.) after more than two years of negotiations with its unidentified Canadian owner who, according to some sources, originally wanted $300,000. Currently stored in pieces in a Toronto warehouse, the luxury propeller-driven aircraft was decommissioned from service in the mid-1960s, and in the late 1990s was transformed into a dining lounge and bar called Super Connie, near Toronto's Pearson International Airport. That business folded about five years ago, and the abandoned, deteriorating plane was subsequently moved off-site by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority.
Groups such as the Toronto Aerospace Museum and the 12,000-member Air Canada Pionairs have mounted on-line petitions to try to keep the aircraft north of the border. Earlier this year, Ottawa's Movable Cultural Property Directorate told the Seattle museum that the Constellation was on the Canadian Cultural Property Export Control List as an artifact of possible historic or cultural significance to the country.
When an unidentified representative of the plane's Canadian seller applied for an export permit April 27, the application was referred to Richard de Boer, a Calgary-based aviation appraiser, who spent a month investigating the history and value of the plane.
Late last month, de Boer told the permit-issuing officer that he deemed the Super Connie "to be of significant cultural and historical importance to Canada," whereupon the officer declined, on May 25, to issue the export permit. The owner of the aircraft has until the end of this month to request a review of this refusal by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board, whose next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 18-20.
(Federal legislation does not require disclosure of the name of the person or institution asking for an export permit. However, this week a representative of the Seattle Museum of Flight said, "We intend to pursue the airplane," and that a request for a review would be made shortly, although the application has to be made by a Canadian. If the request isn't made before the deadline, the Lockheed could stay in Canada for two years before another export permit could be applied for.) Legislation requires the review board to make a decision on the aircraft within four months of receiving the review request. Perhaps most important, if the board concurs with de Boer's assessment, it can establish a delay period of two to six months during which it can try to get a Canadian institution to make "a fair cash offer" to the owner of the Lockheed.
In an earlier interview, Paul Cabot, manager and curator of the Toronto Aerospace Museum, said he hoped the export-review board would grant heritage status to the aircraft because it would give his institution and others "the leverage" to organize a fundraising campaign to keep the plane here. That campaign could receive some help from the Department of Canadian Heritage, which each year sets aside about $1.2-million to help institutions purchase artifacts that might otherwise leave the country.
Cabot said last week's denial of the export permit is "a first step . . . to give us the opportunity to mount a solid effort to keep the aircraft in Canada. Now we know there's a hope. . . . We're just as determined to keep it here as Seattle is determined to get it there. Except we have different budgets."