Last updated: 09:32 AM ET, Wed February 03 2016

Why Will the New Air Force One Be a 747 and Not a Dreamliner?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 02, 2016

Why Will the New Air Force One Be a 747 and Not a Dreamliner?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Boeing has won a contract to build two aircraft that will eventually replace the current presidential fleet known as Air Force One. 

The two current jets, which are 747-200s, are almost 30 years old. Boeing will be making repairs and upgrades on these aircraft while it works on designing and customizing two new 747-8s. Sometime early in the next decade, the 200s will be retired and 8s will take over the job of flying the U.S. President around the globe. 

Why stick with the 747?

Boeing had to bid to get this contract, but it was virtually guaranteed to win because no one else took part in the bidding process. The U.S. manufacturer has made the last seven Air Force Ones: two 747s and five 707s that were used before that.  

Why did the Air Force want to go with the 747, which is one of the older aircraft that Boeing still manufactures? The 747-8 is a new, updated 747 model, but it has not been popular with commercial carriers. Boeing only has a handful of orders for the newest incarnations of its famous jumbo jet. Because of their size and power, most versions of the plane, both new and old, are now used to carry cargo, not passengers. 

READ MORE: Iconic 747s Disappearing from the Skies

The 747 has one very important feature that the Air Force wants: four engines. This means that if there was a failure in one — or even two — of the engines, the aircraft would still be able to fly. This extra margin of safely is enough to make this model an obvious choice for this very unique job description. The two-engine Dreamliner can't offer this kind of extra layer of safety. 

Special features

Actually, it isn't really fair to compare the new Air Force One planes with standard commercial and cargo 747s. The size will give builders enough space to install all the necessary communications and security equipment (and give POTUS plenty of space to work and relax). However, standard 747s, no matter how new, do not have onboard anti-missle systems and other defense features that the new Air Force One will have. 

Because of the special needs and requirements, there will be a long design process, even though the base aircraft will be the same as Boeing's commercial 747s. That process has now officially started, however. A recent Pentagon publication of daily arms spending included $25.8 million for Boeing to start the initial design, budget and risk assessment for the project.

VIDEO: Inside The Donald's Plane, Trump Force One

Sticking to a budget

Col. Amy McCain, the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program manager, told the media that the project will be a balancing act between value and necessary features: "This initial effort is about reducing risk, really understanding where the tough work will be, finding affordability opportunities, and getting the best value for the taxpayer, while continuing to meet the needs of our commander in chief."

Keeping the current Air Force One fleet for much longer is not cost effective either. The older planes require more maintenance, and parts are becoming rarer and therefore more expensive.  

Because of the special features and required due diligence, the design process will be a long one, but things are now officially moving forward and whoever wins the White House during the 2020 elections should have a brand new Air Force One. 


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