The federal government operates Boeing 747-200s as Air Force One. The first one was delivered in 1990. The 747-200 itself (in military configuration, a VC-25) was first put into service in 1971.
Last year they entered into a contract with Boeing for two new custom 747-8s to become the new Air Force One.
Donald Trump, who may never get to fly in the new planes, criticized the deal this morning on Twitter.
Some of the coverage has suggested this involves President-Elect Trump criticizing a plane he would benefit from but these planes aren’t expected to go into service in 2024.
There was never any real opportunity for any other plane or any other manufacturer to sell the government a replacement Air Force One. While the Air Force said they’d consider the Airbus A380, Airbus even publicly expressed skepticism they’d even submit a bid.
It’s unclear where the $4 billion figure comes from, though it’s gotten roundly criticized I wouldn’t be surprised if the total cost by the time it enters service runs that high.
It’s currently budgeted at $2.9 billion but of course ‘what counts’ towards acquisition versus operating cost is always going to be an issue when adding up such things are there’s plenty of time for overruns.
The 747-8 has a list price of $368 million. A major airline in a large aircraft order should be buying slow selling planes for about half that. The aircraft acquisition isn’t the major item here. It’s the unique fit out to be Air Force One.
These planes are built:
- to withstand a nuclear blast
- to scramble infrared missile guidance systems
- to jam enemy radar
- with flares in the wings as countermeasures against incoming missiles
- with armored windows
- with retractable staircases, to avoid risk of sabotage when the President lands abroad (or when arriving in China and no stairs are provided)
The plane costs costs over $200,000 an hour to operate. There’s an onboard operating room staffed by a doctor whenever the plane is inflight. The President’s quarters includes not just sleeping quarters and a shower but also a gym. There’s 4000 square feet of interior space. The President has an office, there’s a ‘situation room’ and a staff quarters.
And secure communications, capable of accessing government classified systems, are part of the build.
There’s little question that military projects are subject to cost overruns, and VIP projects subject to VIP cost overruns. A project to replace Presidential helicopters was killed in 2009 with $3 billion lit on fire,
after estimated costs doubled to $13 billion. The White House, the Secret Service and others kept adding capabilities such as high-tech defense systems and even an onboard kitchen that quickly gained notoriety.
Prototype helicopters were ultimately sold to Canada for parts. I think we’ve seen this film before.
The replacement project to build new Presidential helicopters is a 10-figure deal with Lockheed and Sikorsky. Sikorsky parent was United Technologies until last year. United Technologies is also the parent of Carrier, which was recently pressured not to move some of its factory jobs from Indiana to Mexico. It’s a very incestuous world.
While the plane the President flies is known as Air Force One, the President doesn’t always fly on Boeing 747s. For certain short flights and out of airports with short runways the President may fly a military Boeing 757 or Gulfstream 550 business jet without these enhancements. Donald Trump of course already has a 757 that he could rent to the government.
And for the record no one ever climbed on board the wings of Air Force One to escape Cuba.
Update: to clarify that Sikorsky was sold by United Technologies to Lockheed in November 2015.