A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlines four significant schedule risks to Boeing’s new Air Force One (VC-25B) program for the U.S. Air Force. The program is already two years late and an estimated $1.2 billion over budget, much of which will be absorbed by Boeing. According to the GAO, the unit cost of each program aircraft has risen to more than $2.6 billion, with software accounting for 20 percent of program costs.
Converting the two repurposed Boeing 747-8is to the presidential fleet includes structural modifications, electrical power upgrades, and adding mission communications, military avionics, defensive systems, and executive interiors. The GAO found ongoing scheduling risks to the program include the addition of a new subcontractor to complete the interior, a move that added one year to the completion schedule; rewiring the aircraft; finding enough qualified labor that can complete security screening; and the sustainability of a realistic ground and flight schedule.
Rewiring the aircraft will be particularly problematic. The GAO noted that the VC-25Bs require “over 2,000” wire bundles and “200 miles” of wire, “double” that of a commercial 747. According to the GAO, “Wiring must meet a broad set of complex requirements from electrical protection to proper separation, according to VC-25B officials. They explained that Boeing is leveraging lessons learned from the Boeing-developed KC-46 tanker to avoid on-aircraft wiring issues. According to VC-25B officials, while this takes more time, it increases their confidence in the wiring integration plans. According to the GAO, the KC-46 program is currently seven years behind schedule.
Work on the new presidential aircraft began in 2020. They were originally slated for delivery to defunct Russian airline Transaero, which defaulted on these airplanes. The aircraft were then placed into storage in 2016. Former President Donald Trump personally negotiated the repurposed aircraft deal with former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, insisting that it would save money as opposed to ordering purpose-built aircraft as originally proposed. In 2018, Trump called that idea “totally out of control. It’s going to be over $4 billion for the Air Force One program. I think it’s ridiculous.”