When Will the President Get a New Air Force One?: I was a representative at a NATO Summit many years ago and while sitting at the airport, a large number of people started excitedly calling out that the “Air Force” was here. I imagined they meant fighter planes, but what they were instead talking about was Air Force One which had flown President George W. Bush to the summit in Riga, Latvia. I quickly understood that Air Force One to many NATO allies is a shining example of American exceptionalism, might, and power.
Air Force One Reality Check
But let’s take away the ceremonial symbolism and get back to reality. The two new airplanes designated by Boeing to become the VC-25 Air Force One (that’s any airplane carrying the president) are behind schedule.
Boeing Has Excuses
The manufacturing behemoth signed a $5.3 billion contract with the federal government to build two 747-8 airplanes to make sure the president would fly in style. But a myriad of problems cropped up since then. Boeing was forced to cancel an agreement with a supplier and later ended up suing a company called GDC Technics LLC out of Fort Worth, Texas. GDC countersued Boeing for the cancellation of the contract.
One Contractor Dropped the Ball
GDC Technics was responsible for the interior of the plane. Boeing said that delays caused by the snafu were going to cost $318 million. Adding to the difficulty was that GDC Technics filed for bankruptcy last year, laid off 250 workers, and then in November, faced a class-action lawsuit from the people it fired.
Another Year-long Delay Before Delivery
The new Air Force One airplanes are supposed to be delivered in 2024. But an Air Force acquisition leader said in June there would be another 12-month delay. This may also affect the terms of the original 2018 contract as the problems with Boeing may force the government to pay more for the VC-25Bs.
Can the Current “Flying White House” Planes Continue to Do Their Job?
The delay and extra cost beg the question of whether the current Air Force One planes, which made a debut in 1990, can stay in the air and accomplish its mission. This is, after all, a platform that is supposed to be a “flying White House.” Boeing also said difficulties with Covid-19 impacting the workforce and trouble with supply chains have added to the problems with the new airplanes.
Features are classified, but reportedly the resulting Air Force One planes will have their own medical center and improved engines.
What We Know About the Current Air Force One
The current 747-200B has a conference room and bedrooms for the president and first lady. It allows presidential staff, crew members, and journalists to work and rest with plenty of furniture. The galley can make 100 meals at any given time. There are satellite communications, improved navigation, and better avionics compared to the standard 747.
The Air Force One Program May Cause Embarrassment
The delays and cost overruns are embarrassing for the White House, Boeing, and the Air Force. After all, as noted before, this airplane symbolizes American democracy. It is an oval office with wings and ensures a level of “oohs and ahhs” from friends and allies when it lands and takes off from foreign locations. If the American government and contractors cannot bring the new plane into service until 2025, it gives the appearance that the entire defense industrial base has issues.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.