President elect questions Boeing over Air Force One’s ‘excessive’ price tag


SAM 28000 sits on the tarmac as Air Force One (in the background) descends on final approach into Hickam Field in Honolulu, Hawaii with President George W. Bush aboard.
SAM 28000 sits on the tarmac as Air Force One (in the background) descends on final approach into Hickam Field in Honolulu, Hawaii with President George W. Bush aboard.

Donald Trump tweeted today, “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”

But Boeing was quick to respond. In a released statement they said, “We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the President of the United States. We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best planes for the president at the best value for the American taxpayer.”

According to Kevin W. Buckley, program executive officer of mobility programs headquartered at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson, the main challenge is keeping the aging fleet fully mission capable.

“The real challenge and the challenge that is forcing us to buy newer aircraft for the president is to overcome the fact that there are heroics going on every day to keep the current aircraft flying, and it’s becoming way too expensive and way too difficult to do that,” he said.

In a time where the Air Force, and the Department of Defense in general, is being continually tapped to do more with less, Buckley says getting by on a shoe string budget may be acceptable for the Air Force’s other aircraft, but not for the president’s fleet.

“We grit our teeth and bear it in the U.S. Air Force,” Buckley said. “We can’t do that with the presidential air (fleet). They need 100 percent reliability.”

Although Mr. Trump said, “Cancel order,” the order to replace the fleet hasn’t been executed.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Boeing hasn’t secured deals to build the planes that would replace the current aircraft used as Air Force One, which have been in service since President George H.W. Bush’s administration. The two heavily modified 747-200 planes used by the current administration are due to reach the end of their planned 30-year life in 2017. This can be extended a few more years, and the Air Force has said in budget documents it wanted to have the first new jet in place by 2023 or 2024.

In September of 2015, the Undersecretary of Defense approved the plan to replace Air Force One with Boeing’s 747-8 in which Boeing is the sole bidder. The new plan forecasts it will cost an estimated $2.87 billion to replace Air Force One. The cost of a commercial Boeing 747-8 is nearly $370 million, but costs are projected to increase due to the fleet’s unique-mission requirements.

“What drives the price tag isn’t the cost of the plane, it’s all the costly modifications and equipment that must be installed on such a unique aircraft,” said Loren B. Thompson, a senior aviation analyst and industry consultant with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute.

The Boeing 747-8 will fly 7,730 nautical miles, nearly 1,000 miles farther than the Boeing 747-200. The new jetliner will be both the fastest and longest commercial airliner in the world, reaching speeds of Mach. 0.855, and measuring slightly over 250 feet in length. And at 987,000 pounds, the new version will weigh 154,000 pounds more than the old version and produce 16 tons less of carbon dioxide on a typical flight, according to Boeing.

During an impromptu appearance in the lobby of New York City’s Trump Tower, the president elect said, “The plane is totally out of control. I think it’s ridiculous. “I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money but not that much money.”

The U.S. began using Boeing planes in 1943, but it was President John F. Kennedy who became the first president to fly in a jet specifically built for presidential use in 1962. It was a Boeing 707 that was used to fly Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush. The current fleet of 747-200s came into service in 1990.

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