Air Force One, the symbol of U.S. presidential power and diplomacy, is due for an upgrade and the Air Force decided Jan. 28 that the next generation of executive aircraft will be built on Boeing’s 787-4 platform. The president’s current ride, the VC-25, is based off of Boeing’s 747-200, and it will have completed its 30-year service life in 2017. That the Air Force chose Boeing to build the next plane is hardly a surprise.
The Air Force was looking for a four-engine, wide-body aircraft that could be modified to meet the needs of the commander in chief. After looking at what was on the market, the military saw there were only two companies that built aircraft capable of fulfilling those needs: Boeing and Airbus.
Boeing builds their jumbo jets in the Unite States, and Airbus builds theirs in France. When considering the role of Air Force One, where the plane was made matters. This makes Boeing the obvious choice. Airbus offials, according to The Wall Street Journal, did not seriously consider bidding for the contract anyway. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James acknowledged how Boeing was the only real competitor this in the Air Force’s statement.
The Boeing 747-8 is the only aircraft manufactured in the United States (that), 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.
As of now, no official contract has been signed between Boeing and the military for the purchase of the aircraft. The Air Force’s Office of Public Affairs emphasized this point.
The decision, made official through a Determinations and Findings document, authorizes the commercial aircraft purchase by other than full and open competition. This decision, in conjunction with the notification of the Air Force’s intent to award a sole source contract to Boeing for the modification of the 747-8, allows discussions with Boeing that will likely lead to a contract for the aircraft platform as well as the modifications necessary to missionize the aircraft.
James also said that once the 747-8 platform has been purchased, the Air Force intends to invite other companies to compete for Air Force One’s “subsystem” contracts. Competition, the Air Force says, will encourage innovation and keep costs low.
Boeing has had a long history of flying U.S. presidents. John F. Kennedy was the first president to fly on a jet-powered airliner in 1962, a Boeing 707-320B. Since then, all the presidents have flown on Boeing-built aircraft.