Secondhand 747-8s Could Accelerate Air Force One Replacement

Air Force One taxis on the flightline at Whiteman AFB, Mo., July 24, 2013. Air Force photo by SSgt. Nick Wilson.

The Air Force closed a deal Friday to buy two stored Boeing 747-8s as the next presidential transports, and it’s possible that buying the already-built jets could speed the process of replacing the VC-25As now serving that role.

Close on the heels of the revelation that USAF was planning to buy the jets the Air Force said it had awarded Boeing a “contract modification” on Aug. 4 to buy the airplanes, which have been sitting in storage at a Mojave Desert boneyard since their original buyer, Russian airline Transaero, went bankrupt and left the aircraft in limbo.

USAF declined to say how much it paid for the jets, which were never used in airline service, saying this information is “commercial competition sensitive.” However, a service spokeswoman said the jets were bought at “an attractive price point.” The value of the jets may become somewhat discernible in late September, when the spokeswoman said the preliminary design review contract will be awarded, and that award will include the cost of the two aircraft.

The spokeswoman could not say how long the jets have been in storage or when the Air Force would take possession.

Asked if buying extant aircraft will speed the Presidential Aircraft Replacement (PAR) program, the spokeswoman said, “we are hoping it will,” adding that “having the aircraft earlier in the program affords an opportunity to accelerate the program schedule.”

USAF released a statement from PAR program executive officer Maj. Gen. Duke Richardson, who said, “This award keeps us on track to modify and test the aircraft to become presidential mission-ready by 2024.”

The spokeswoman was unable to say whether there would be any net cost to remove the interiors of the aircraft, which are configured for airline passenger seating.

The contract modification “follows a set of awards in 2016 for risk reduction activities and the Air Force has already requested Boeing provide proposals to design, modify, test, and field two presidential mission-ready aircraft, the Air Force said. Modifications are expected to get underway in 2019.

Boeing suggested the Air Force consider buying the aircraft, given pressure from the White House to reduce the cost of the PAR project. In a statement, USAF Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Darlene Costello said the novel approach “is a significant step toward ensuring an overall affordable program,” adding that USAF will keep looking for other opportunities to cut costs on the project.

The service said that “in March, following a series of requirements reviews, the White House reaffirmed the minimum set of requirements necessary to meet presidential mission needs.” The modifications required for the jets include “a mission communications system, electrical power upgrades, a medical facility, an executive interior, a self-defense system, and autonomous ground operations capabilities.” Congress approved a budget reprogramming for the aircraft earlier this week.