The designation/callsign “Air Force One” has been around since around the time of WWII, with FDR being the first president to fly while in office. Since 1943, with only a couple exceptions, the Air Force has been flying custom versions of Boeing commercial airliners for the presidential flight mission. Most recently replaced in 1990, the president currently flies in a modified 747 with the military designation “VC-25”; two copies were produced for a cost of $325 million apiece, and the callsign “Air Force One” is only used when the president is onboard.
Even though it is still extremely advanced, Air Force One is due for a replacement. Currently, the operating cost for each VC-25 is $210,877 per hour; an extremely high figure, likely because of the dated nature and high maintenance costs of both the airframe and the avionics suite.
However, with a total program cost estimated to be around $4 billion dollars, Boeing is clearly gouging the taxpayer. The newest derivative of Air Force One will end up being over six times as expensive as the last one, which was built on the same airframe. I guess Boeing just thought the higher price tag was going to slip through the cracks of a bloated DoD budget?
The older 747-200 the current VC-25s were derived from has been out of production since 1991, with the 747-8 being the current variant under production. Boeing has considered ending production of the 747 altogether, once its current backlog of 21 aircraft orders (including the VC-25 replacements) is fulfilled.
The relative inefficiency of the 747 is the top reason for its decline. It has lost the highest trafficked overseas routes to the Airbus A380, which the 747 once dominated. Also, commercial and cargo airlines have largely switched to more efficient Boeing 777s and 787s, as well as the Airbus A340 and A350, with twin engines and newer, more efficient designs cutting their costs far below that of the 747. While it could be argued that the Air Force should modify a twin-engine Boeing jet such as the 777 or 787 instead, their desire for a larger four-engine jet to transport our nation’s leader is understandable, given the dangers the jet could face.
Critics have come out in force to justify the ridiculous cost of the Air Force One program, though they seem more interested in criticizing the president-elect than they do in explaining the aircraft’s price tag. In a USA Today article detailing Trump’s attack on the cost of the AF1 program, aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia didn’t provide any evidence to support an increased cost for the jets, instead choosing to criticize the president-elect for daring to mention that the aircraft is grossly overpriced.
Richard Aboulafia, aviation analyst at the Teal Group, said the current Air Force One planes were made in the 1980s and have become obsolete. The planes are equipped with state-of-the-art communications technology and defense mechanisms to survive nuclear war or terrorist attacks, he said.
Anything in the $3 billion to $4 billion range would be reasonable, and a belief otherwise is “completely ignorant,” he said.
“This is the wrong place to talk about cost control,” Aboulafia said. “People aren’t upset in Washington about a relatively small program being canceled. They’re upset we have a president who doesn’t understand what is needed to be president.”
Aboulafia wants you to believe that not only has the cost of replacing Air Force One gone up so drastically due to inflation, higher materials costs, redevelopment of an existing airframe, or whatever ridiculous expenditure he didn’t cite, he seems to be implying that the current VC-25s don’t already have similar EMP and nuclear/biological/chemical protections built into them already. Of course, AF1 has all of that and more, and it is by far the most sophisticated VVIP transport plane in the world, even at 25+ years old. Even the aircraft’s maintenance crews know that despite its age, it is anything but obsolete.
There was no mention from USA Today that even the original contract estimation of $1.65 billion dollars for the pair of VC-25s was already a significant markup upon an airframe that had been previously modified by the Air Force for the AF1 role, and should not have been nearly that expensive to do again in the first place. Bear in mind, as USA Today stated, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reappraised the program’s cost to the $4 billion dollar figure, noting it would be “including $2 billion for research and development”. How exactly is this price tag considered “reasonable”?
For reference, the other “most expensive” airplane in the Air Force’s inventory, the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, is estimated to cost about the same $2 billion per copy as the new VC-25s. However, the high per-unit cost of the B-2 is due to the buy being cut from 132 to 21, after the end of the cold war, averaging a high R&D cost across a much smaller number of aircraft. Had the Air Force bought even another 20 of the planned units, they could have been purchased for $566 million each. Coincidentally, the Air Force’s new stealth bomber, the B-21, is estimated to cost about $511 million a copy (before the appropriate cost overruns, of course).
So the MSM, and our government for that matter, is OK with a replacement Air Force One being six times as expensive as its predecessor, and about as costly as four new copies of already ridiculously overpriced stealth bombers. And the MSM is also somehow critical of the president-elect for bring this to light. Is it any wonder they feel the need to defend their bias by calling alternative coverage “fake”?
Trump is correct to call out Boeing for this injustice they are doing to the taxpayer. Not only is he calling attention to another runaway military expenditure, he is putting all government contractors on notice. Whether the MSM believes the president should be focusing his attention elsewhere or not, he is demonstrating that he is not afraid to call out any contract size or any contractor for gouging the taxpayer.
Hopefully, Trump’s conduct will keep government contractors’ heads on swivels, and wary of the repercussions of overbilling on government contracts for as long as he is president. Still, our government spends close to $4 trillion annually, and Trump cannot be everywhere at once. Don’t be surprised when reports of more over-budget, behind schedule government programs appear during his presidency.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2016
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UPDATE 12/7/2016: After this article was posted, a reader asked which government official(s) were responsible for allowing the Air Force One replacement to proceed at this ridiculous cost. It appears that the ultimately, the president has to approve it, and Obama himself did approve the exorbitant price tag late last year.
Interestingly enough, when Obama first took office, he cancelled a Marine One replacement which was much further along, with $3 billion already spent. Perhaps he decided the money was all of a sudden worth it, after stating over and over again that he will miss Air Force One the most out of all presidential perks after leaving office?
The whole situation brings about the question; is anyone in our government besides the president monitoring how much money has been spent to produce all the planes/cars/helicopters necessary for presidential transit?
Stay tuned for more.
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