With the Trump administration looking to save some cash on the purchase of a new Air Force One, the U.S. Air Force and Boeing struck a deal late Friday on a pair of Boeing 787-8s that were originally built for a now-bankrupt Russian airline.
Transaero was Russia’s second-largest airline until it went bankrupt in 2015. Competitor Aeroflot absorbed much of the defunct airline’s equipment but declined to pick up the $1.5 billion sticker price for the planes. Boeing has been paying to park them in the aircraft boneyard in the Mojave Desert.
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“The planes have always been owned by Boeing and in Boeing’s possession,” said Caroline Hutcheson, spokesperson for the Seattle-based aircraft giant, in an exclusive interview with Rare.
The pair of planes is not even “used,” exactly, aviation and U.S. Air Force acquisition expert Loren Thompson told Rare. “They’ve been flown exactly twice: once to make sure everything was working right and once to take them to the boneyard,” Thompson said. They’ve been stored in a “like-new” state ever since, he added. And they’re certainly an upgrade from the 747-200s that have been transporting U.S. presidents since the 1990s.
It’s a little like going to the car dealership after the 2017 models have come out – “There are still brand news 2016s on the lot,” Hutcheson said of what she called the “creative solution” that is resulting in a “substantial discount” on the planes.
“The Air Force has taken advantage of a unique opportunity to get a great airplane at a great price for the American taxpayer,” she said. The price of the deal, however, was not disclosed.
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“Purchasing these aircraft is a huge step toward replacing the aging VC-25As,” said Maj. Gen. Duke Richardson, the Presidential Airlift Recapitalization program executive officer, in a press release sent to Rare. “This award keeps us on track to modify and test the aircraft to become presidential mission-ready by 2024.”
The move isn’t that far off from the usual purchase process for a presidential plane, Thompson said, but there’s still a long way to go before any U.S. president climbs aboard the planes – and taxpayers still might get a little sticker shock.
Boeing will also make the modifications under a separate, not-yet-awarded contract, according to the Air Force. That phase of the program is expected to begin in 2019. All told, the Air Force expects to spend more than $3 billion to buy and outfit a new presidential plane over the next five years, according to the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget request.
“Normally, the process on Air Force One is to buy a vanilla plane and then make major modifications so it can refuel in the air, trail a mile-long antenna, withstand an electromagnetic pulse,” Thompson said. “But the cost of the modifications will most certainly be higher than the cost of the aircraft.”