With the presidential plane still unsold after almost a year on the market, President López Obrador has floated a new idea to offload the luxuriously-outfitted Boeing 787 Dreamliner: hold a raffle.
The National Lottery could raffle the plane off by selling six million tickets at 500 pesos (US $27) a pop, López Obrador told reporters at his regular news conference on Friday.
“That’s 3 billion pesos [US $160.6 million],” the president said, explaining that the amount raised would cover the estimated US $130-million value of the plane.
López Obrador added that the prize would include the cost of operating the Dreamliner for one or two years.
He said that rules would be put in place to prevent the winner from selling the plane for less than its value, charging that “it would be very regrettable if it was sold off cheaply.”
Asked who came up with the raffle idea, the president declined to name names but said it originated within the government. He brushed off criticism from opposition lawmakers for not having sold the plane already, declaring that it’s not a tamal de chipilín, a corn cake prepared with the leaves of the chipilín legume.
Some opposition political parties ridiculed the raffle idea, while a lawmaker with the Institutional Revolutionary Party suggested that it should be put to use by the armed forces or health authorities.
National Action Party spokesman Juan Carlos Romero Hicks described the raffle idea as offensive to the people of Mexico and declared that López Obrador “needs to grow up.”
Later Friday, Communications and Transportation Secretary Javier Jiménez Espriú told reporters in Oaxaca that he wasn’t aware of the idea to raffle the plane off, but didn’t think much of the plan. Asked whether it was feasible, he responded: “No, I don’t think so. I think that there are other, more immediate [options].”
However, by that time Twitter users had already made the raffle idea a trending topic.
The Associated Press reported that people wondered where they would park the plane if they won it and suggested that it could be used for boozy trips to the United States to watch the Super Bowl. Turning the plane into a taco restaurant was another popular idea.
Keeping the plane on the ground would certainly be a much cheaper option for any potential raffle winner – especially after the end of the one or two-year period in which López Obrador said that operational costs would be covered.
According to a report by the newspaper El Financiero, just filling the Dreamliner’s fuel tank costs 1.47 million pesos (US $78,700).
Once pilots’ salaries and storage and maintenance costs are factored in, the new owner of the plane would likely be forking out 5.23 million pesos (US $280,000) a month, the report said.
The lottery is one of five options under consideration to extract financial or material benefit from the plane, which was purchased for US $218 million in 2012 but not delivered until February 2016.
López Obrador, who takes commercial flights and has vowed never to set foot on the Dreamliner, said the other options are to sell it to a single buyer, sell it to a collective of companies, trade it to the United States for medical equipment or rent it out for US $15,000 per hour.
The president said the government received an offer of US $125 million this week but couldn’t accept it because it was below the United Nations valuation of $130 million.
Used by former president Enrique Peña Nieto for 214 domestic and international flights, the 80-seat aircraft has a full presidential suite with a bedroom and private bathroom. Reconfiguring it for commercial use, which would entail increasing the number of seats to about 300, is not financially viable, according to experts.