Donald Trump loves a good deal. And the United States Air Force just found one for the president, sitting in a Mojave Desert boneyard: two brand new Boeing 747-8's, the very same planes that the military plans to convert into the next Air Force One aircraft. These two have an interesting origin story, too.
The two 747-8’s were originally ordered by Transaero, a Russian airline that went bankrupt and couldn’t pay for them. Aeroflot, the company that acquired Transaero and Russia’s largest airline, absorbed much of the bankrupt company’s fleet but never took ownership of the 747-8’s, which carry a sticker price of $386.8 million. So Boeing took them back, flight-tested them, and put them in storage in the Mojave Desert. Now, they could be the president’s next personal jet.
It’s not yet a done deal. According to Defense One, the Air Force is expected to announce the purchase of these two 747-B aircraft as soon as this week. In a statement, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said, “We’re working through the final stages of coordination to purchase two commercial 747-8 aircraft and expect to award a contract soon.”
Meanwhile, Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson said, “We’re still working toward a deal to provide two 747-8's to the Air Force—this deal is focused on providing a great value for the Air Force and the best price for the taxpayer.”
Key to the value proposition here is that the Air Force would still have to outfit the new 747-8's with all of the unusual and expensive riggings that Air Force One requires. These include private conference rooms in the cabin, private quarters for the president, an operating room for medical emergencies, a mid-air refueling probe, flares hidden in the wings to deter missile attacks, and a fuselage that can survive a nuclear blast on the ground. Based on a Pentagon budget request, the Air Force has the budget to spend nearly $3.2 billion on these modifications. It’s so far unclear how much the Air Force would pay Boeing for the two planes recovered from Transaero, and it’s possible we might never know the price of the deal.
But still, Donald Trump must be pleased. The man behind The Art of the Deal barked loudly after his election last November that the new Air Force One was just too expensive. Never mind the fact that Trump might never get to fly in one of the two new Air Force One aircraft, which are expected to enter service some time between 2018 and 2022. If the deal does go through, however, we can expect the president to take credit. The irony of the fact that the comes from a backdoor Russian source while the Trump’s administration is under investigation for colluding with Russia will be lost on no one.