"The real challenge and the challenge that is forcing us to buy newer aircraft for the president is to overcome the fact that there are heroics going on every day to keep the current aircraft flying and it's becoming way too expensive and way too difficult to do that," Kevin W. Buckley, program executive officer of mobility programs, headquartered at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson, told the Dayton Daily News.
Buckley is planning to replace the airplanes by 2024 with two or three Boeing 747-8s — which are larger but more fuel-efficient than the White House’s current jets.
“Even with the current replacement program, the existing aircraft will get to be around 35 years old, which is up there in jetliner years,” Richard Aboulafia, a senior aviation analysis at the Teal Group in Virginia, told the Dayton paper.
According to Buckley, the Air Force will often fly their planes far past the 30-year mark, but they are not willing to take chances with the fleet that transports the president.
“We grit our teeth and bear it in the US Air Force,” he said. “We can’t do that with the presidential air (fleet). They need 100 percent reliability.”
Each 747-8 costs roughly $370 million, before the presidential modifications, which include an airborne command post, complete with communications gear and defensive equipment such as anti-aircraft missiles. The US Air Force has budgeted $1.65 billion from 2015 to 2019 for the new Air Force One planes.
“It’s really not just about getting the president from point A to point B,” Buckley said. “It’s adding communication equipment. It’s adding defensive gear. It’s adding everything that the president needs in order to execute his mission in that airplane. He has to be able to do everything in all his roles: commander in chief, chief executive, head of state, president of the United States.”
The planes are modified to be able to function even in a nuclear war, Buckley explained.
Once the current Air Force One planes are retired, they will likely be sent to the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson, although the move has not been confirmed.