A Manchester City themed aircraft that was unveiled by Premier League stars in October has been converted into a cargo plane to collect frozen beef from Sudan during the coronavirus pandemic.
The eyecatching 787-9 Dreamliner, which is emblazoned with the Sky Blues’ crest and owned by Etihad, landed in Khartoum on Wednesday to pick up 24 tons of meat before jetting off again for the UAE.
No passengers were aboard the aircraft, which was launched as part of the Etihad fleet last year by players Leroy Sané and Karen Bardsley, as well as club legend Joleon Lescott.
Several photographs taken by onlookers show the Premier League-branded aeroplane standing at Khartoum airport while it was loaded up with beef before returning to the Gulf.
The Manchester City aeroplane normally functions as a regular passenger jet and is not used by the football team.
Etihad has a large cargo operation, but has been forced to repurpose some of its passenger fleet as freighters during the coronavirus pandemic, including the Man City jet.
There has been a spike in demand for freight aircraft because most passenger flights – which usually carry some cargo in addition to luggage – have been cancelled.
The flagship aircraft, which was given City colours last year to celebrate the club’s partnership with Etihad Airways, joined 21 other 787s and 787-10s to take on cargo duties.
It has already been used to transport freight to and from numerous destinations including Manila, Cairo, Brussels, Casablanca, Jeddah, Zurich and Delhi. The plane has carried many different cargoes, including food, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and perishables.
Manchester City FC is owned by 49-year-old Sheikh Mansour, deputy prime minister of the UAE and half-brother of the Emerati leader Khalifa Al Nahyan.
The presence of the sky blue plane in Khartoum created some confusion last week, with media mistakenly reporting that it was flying UAE officials to Sudan for clandestine talks.
It was wrongly alleged that powerful Emirati National Security Adviser Tahnoon bin Zayed was secretly visiting the country to drum up support for Libyan rebel commander Khalifa Haftar.
The Sudanese military and government, which insist they are neutral on the Libyan civil war, furiously denied these claims, branding them ‘fake news’ and threatening to shut down media outlets responsible.
Up to 3,000 Sudanese mercenaries are thought to be fighting in Libya for the rebel forces against the UN-backed Government of National Unity (GNU).
Other reports erroneously suggested that the 234-seat Premier League-themed airliner was carrying humanitarian aid to the northeastern African nation.
According to transport documentation seen by MailOnline, there were four people aboard the plane: the pilot, co-pilot, an engineer and a dispatcher.
Meat products and live animals are among Sudan’s principal exports, with thousands of tons being sold to the UAE each year. This is thought to be the first time it has been delivered by a Manchester City airliner.