The U.S. Air Force awarded a contract modification to the Boeing Co. that will see it acquire two 747-8 jumbo jets that will be modified for future use as Air Force One aircraft. The aircraft are already built, having been ordered by Transaero Airlines in 2015. That Russian carrier later declared bankruptcy. While the airline’s contract was never completed, the jets were built and placed in storage.
Boeing will begin modifying and testing the FAA-certified commercial 747-8 aircraft to meet presidential operational requirements. The two jets will start providing “presidential airlift support” worldwide in 2024, according to the Air Force.
The news apparently resolves some earlier controversy about the cost of replacing the aircraft currently serving as Air Force One, the customized jets that serve as the secure transport aircraft for the President of the U.S. Earlier this year, President Trump publicly criticized the expected cost of the Air Force One replacement program.
The Boeing 747 is a four-engine, wide-body jet developed as a long-distance passenger aircraft, but now more commonly used as a cargo carrier as airlines seek more fuel-efficient aircraft. The USAF prefers the 747 as Air Force One flights for a range of design and security factors.
The USAF said the new contract modification marks “a significant step toward ensuring an overall affordable program.” However, it did not indicate the agreed purchase price for the two aircraft; the contract modification was awarded through commercial contracting procedures, which conceal prices in the competitive interest of the manufacturer.
The list price for a new 747 is $386.8 million, though each sale agreement is subject to a variety of discounts, incentives, and other variables. The modification cost of the 747s in order to serve as Air Force One aircraft also was not revealed by USAF.
The two 747s will replace two VC-25A Boeing 747-200 presidential support aircraft, now in service but aging and on track for replacement. It was the cost of the replacement effort that the President criticized.
The Air Force noted this contract modification supersedes the requests it made last year for Boeing to quote a program to design, modify, test, and field two new, Presidential mission-ready aircraft. That request will be awarded via future contract modifications, according to USAF.
The Air Force also stated it will continue to look for cost-saving opportunities in the Air Force One program.
"This award is a significant step toward ensuring an overall affordable program," stated Darlene Costello, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. "As we move forward, we will continue to seek and implement cost savings opportunities."