In an announcement that was a surprise to no one, the Air Force Wednesday said it intends replace its fleet of large presidential aircraft with Boeing’s 747-8 jumbo jets.
In prepared statement, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James called the presidential aircraft "one of the most visible symbols of the United States of America and the office of the president of the United States."
"The Boeing 747-8 is the only aircraft manufactured in the United States when fully missionized meets the necessary capabilities established to execute the presidential support mission, while reflecting the office of the president of the United States of America consistent with the national public interest," James said.
The Air Force was looking for a four-engine, large capacity aircraft. The only other such aircraft in production is the Airbus A-380, built in France by the European planemaker.
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The Air Force hasn’t yet signed a contract with Boeing. It will likely negotiate that contract over the next several months.
The 747-8-based presidential planes will replace presidential aircraft based on Boeing’s 747-200 plane. The first of those two presidential planes, designated “Air Force One” when the chief executive is aboard, was delivered in 1990. Both planes are due for replacement because of their age and the need to adopt modern electronics and powerplants in the presidential planes. The Air Force reportedly will order three of the new planes which will be delivered beginning in 2018.
The order would be a boost for the lagging 747-8 program which generated no net orders last year for Boeing. Only 36 of those planes remain on the Boeing orderbooks, a little more than two year’s production at the rate they’re being built now at Boeing’s Everett plant.
The presidential aircraft are likely to be much more expensive and complex than the commercial 747s Boeing produces for airlines. Those presidential planes, for instance, will be equipped with extensive communications systems, redundant auxiliary power units, mid-air refueling capabilities and customer interiors with bedrooms and conference rooms for the presidential party and seats for staff members. The present presidential aircraft have seats for 78 persons in a plane that in commercial configurations carries some 400 passengers.
The 747-8 is the latest version of the 747. It is equipped with a new wing and engines to improve fuel economy and range as well as update electronics and navigation equipment.
The president isn’t the only head of state who will have a 747 aircraft. Several Mideast potentates already have bought 747-8s or the larger Airbus A-380 for personal transportation.
The 747-8 has been a slow seller in part because airlines prefer large twin-engine aircraft such as Boeing’s 777 for long-range flights. Having two engines instead of four simplifies and reduces the cost of maintenance.