WASHINGTON — The U.S. commander in chief is one step closer to stomping in his Air Force Ones after the Air Force on Friday awarded Boeing a contract for the two 747s that will be converted into presidential airlifters.
In a statement, the service opted not to reveal the value of the award, which came as a modification to a 2016 contract for risk reduction efforts with Boeing, because “price and other related details are commercial-competition sensitive” — meaning it could affect the company’s future deals with commercial airliners and other presumptive customers.
However, the Air Force was reportedly able to save a substantial amount on the future Air Force One planes because it purchased aircraft that had already been manufactured, but never delivered, to the original buyer — in this case, the bankrupt Russian airline Transaero.
Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson confirmed that the Air Force had purchased the Transaero jets.
“We’re glad to have reached an agreement to sell to the U.S. Air Force two new 747-8 commercial airplanes at a substantial discount from the company’s existing inventory to serve as the future Air Force One fleet,” she said in a statement. “The Air Force has taken advantage of a unique opportunity to get a great airplane at a great price for the American taxpayer.”
Earlier this week, Defense One broke the news that the Air Force and Boeing were ready to sign a deal for the Transaero planes, which Defense News independently confirmed. Sources knowledgable about the negotiations said then that Boeing had maintained ownership over the aircraft for the entirety of their lifespans, and therefore they could not have been tampered with by Russia or other entities.
The list price of a 747-8 is about $390 million. The service has promised to release the overall program cost baseline, which will incorporate the value of the two aircraft and other expenses related to the program. However, because the Air Force is not disclosing the value of the deal, it is impossible to know exactly how much money was saved by buying undelivered planes.
“Purchasing these aircraft is a huge step toward replacing the aging VC-25As,” said Maj. Gen. Duke Richardson, the program executive officer for the Presidential Airlift Recapitalization, an alternative name for the program. “This award keeps us on track to modify and test the aircraft to become Presidential mission-ready by 2024.”
The program office plans to award another contract modification to Boeing by the end of the fiscal year for the preliminary design review, after which an engineering, manufacturing and development period will begin.
“In March, following a series of requirements reviews, the White House reaffirmed the minimum set of requirements necessary to meet Presidential mission needs,” the Air Force said in its statement. “The resultant modifications to the aircraft will include incorporating a mission communications system, electrical power upgrades, a medical facility, an executive interior, a self-defense system and autonomous ground operations capabilities.”
Aircraft modifications are expected to begin in 2019, with initial operational capability following in 2024.
“This award is a significant step towards ensuring an overall affordable program,” said Darlene Costello, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. “As we move forward, we will continue to seek and implement cost savings opportunities.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.