The New Air Force One Plane May Fall a Year Behind Schedule, Air Force Says

Air Force One refuels at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii
Air Force One refuels at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, on President Donald Trump's return to Washington D.C. from the North Korea summit, June 12, 2018. (Brittany A. Chase/U.S. Air Force)

Boeing Co. is behind schedule on two new Air Force One aircraft, which could mean the upgraded VC-25B planes will not be delivered until 2025, according to service officials.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, Darlene Costello, principal deputy assistant secretary for Air Force acquisition, technology and logistics, revealed that the service is reviewing the aerospace and defense company's request to delay the delivery by at least a year.

The aircraft were originally scheduled for delivery at the end of 2024.

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Boeing has told the service it needs to tack on an additional 12 months "beyond their original schedule," Costello told lawmakers, adding that the service must agree to the new terms.

"As soon as we get the updated schedule, we'll determine if we have to adjust our baseline or schedule," Costello said.

To make up for unforeseen costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Boeing said it may ask the service to pay more for the planes. The original $3.9 billion deal for the modified 747-8 airliners was set in 2018. The company has not asked for additional funding yet, Costello said; a dollar amount was not disclosed.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., expressed concern that the delivery delay might also create unforeseen costs to keep the current VC-25A aircraft -- introduced in 1990 -- flying longer.

"We may need to put in one more maintenance cycle for that aircraft, depending on the timing," Costello replied.

Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, the Air Force military deputy for acquisition, earlier this year acknowledged that the new Air Force One aircraft would be late because of a dispute with one of the suppliers remaking the aircraft's interior.

"Boeing is working hard. They've got another supplier identified, [and] we're going to transfer as much of the work on the interiors as possible," Richardson said during the annual McAleese conference in May.

Boeing in April canceled its contract with GDC Technics, a Texas-based company, to redesign the state-of-the-art "flying White House," stating that GDC failed to "meet contractual obligations" regarding work deadlines.

The subcontractor then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and claimed Boeing was responsible for the program's mismanagement, according to court documents filed in San Antonio and reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Boeing estimates GDC's delays and problems related to the pandemic cost it $318 million in building the VC-25Bs, the company said in an earnings call in April.

Boeing began modifying the aircraft last year. The planes were originally ordered for the Russian airline company Transaero in 2013, DefenseOne reported in 2017. The company never delivered the jets to the now-defunct airline and instead put them in storage.

The aircraft passed its critical design review last spring, according to Defense News.

The Air Force One news comes after the service shelved plans to replace another high-profile executive aircraft: its small fleet of C-32s, or enhanced Boeing 757s, typically used to transport VIPs such as the vice president.

While the C-32 will remain in the fleet, the Air Force will not pursue investment in the airframe beyond already planned modifications, according to the service's fiscal 2022 budget request. DefenseOne was first to note the service put off purchasing another Air Force Two aircraft.

"The C-32 Executive Transport Recapitalization program was intended to replace the aging C-32A aircraft fleet," according to its Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Budget Item Justification.

Instead, remaining funding for the C-32 program was recently "applied to the evaluation and maturation of advanced high speed transport scale aircraft," the budget request states.

The Pentagon last year awarded three companies contracts to begin prototyping a supersonic aircraft that could someday carry the president and other officials around the world in half the time. But until then, the C-32 -- flying since 1998 -- will press on, officials have said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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