Updated with U.S. Air Force contract announcement.
Boeing and the U.S. Air Force confirmed a report that they are negotiating the sale of two Boeing 747-8s formerly destined for bankrupt Russian carrier Transaero to serve as Air Force One, the presidential transport. Before taking office in January, President Donald Trump criticized the cost of the service’s Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program, which apparently led to the talks.
Defense One reported on August 1 that the Air Force and Boeing are negotiating over two 747-8s being stored at Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California. Those had been ordered by Transaero, which ceased operations in October 2015.
“We’re working through the final stages of coordination to purchase two commercial 747-8 aircraft and to award a contract soon,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an emailed statement, confirming the report. Boeing issued the following statement: “We’re still working toward a deal to provide two 747-8s to the Air Force. This deal is focused on providing a great value for the Air Force and the best price for the taxpayer.”
Asked about the pending sale during the daily White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders said she could not confirm the report.
[The Air Force announced August 4 that it had awarded a contract modification to Boeing to purchase two commercial 747-8s; these will replace the two current VC-25A Presidential support aircraft—Boeing 747-200s.
Since it is purchasing the new aircraft “through commercial contracting procedures, price and other related details are commercial-competition sensitive, meaning the negotiated price paid is not releasable,” the service said, adding that the cost will be applied to the baseline recapitalization program.
Plans call for starting modifications in 2019, with initial operational capability of the Presidential aircraft scheduled for 2024. Modifications include installing a mission communications system, electrical power upgrades, medical facility, executive interior, self-defense system and autonomous ground operations capabilities.
“This award is a significant step toward ensuring an overall affordable program,” stated Darlene Costello, Air Force principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition. “As we move forward, we will continue to seek and implement cost savings opportunities.”]
The Air Force currently operates two modified Boeing 747-200Bs, designated as VC-25As, when carrying the President. In January 2015, the service selected the Boeing 747-8 to serve as the new Air Force One under the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization Program.
As president-elect in December, Trump called for cancelling the recapitalization program, saying in a tweet that its cost was “out of control.” Trump claimed the program would cost “more than $4 billion.” Fact-checking website PolitiFact later estimated that developing, testing and building two heavily modified Presidential 747-8s would cost $3.73 billion over 12 years.
The list price of a Boeing 747-8 is $387 million, according to the manufacturer. In its Fiscal Year 2018 budget submission, the Air Force requested $434 million in research, development, test and evaluation funding for the recapitalization program; the service seeks $3.1 billion in funding through 2022.