The government’s official aircraft for VIPs will be decommissioned at the end of March after carrying prime ministers and Imperial family members for a quarter of a century.

The jet has also been used for international assistance and humanitarian support activities, traveling to 100 countries and regions.

The aircraft, a special Boeing 747-400, went into use in 1993 along with a reserve plane.

Due to the 747’s advanced age, maintenance can no longer be carried out domestically. The aircraft will be replaced by a special Boeing 777-300ER in April.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited 78 countries and regions on 176 trips during his seven years in the top office, including his first stint in 2006. The number of his overseas trips has surged since he returned to power in December 2012 and he has made full use of the aircraft.

It was also used for domestic flights 15 times, including for Imperial family members. Prime ministers used the aircraft to attend the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa in 2000 and Toyako, Hokkaido, in 2008.

In 2004 the plane was used to bring to Japan the offspring of Japanese people who had been abducted to North Korea decades earlier. The same year it carried Self-Defense Forces personnel to Iraq for a humanitarian mission and then brought them back home. In 2013 it transported the bodies of Japanese nationals killed during a hostage crisis in Algeria.

The government is discussing how to use the aircraft after its retirement. Proposals include selling it as a used plane, dismantling it to sell off the components or putting it on display at the Air Self-Defense Force’s base in Chitose, Hokkaido, where the ASDF Special Airlift Group manages and operates the aircraft.

The Defense Ministry will solicit opinions on its fate from the public before the decommissioning, officials said.

The new aircraft features a conference room, an office and a room for news conferences, among other facilities, just like the current model.

The government will also have a backup 777 to prepare for unforeseeable circumstances.

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