Air Force One Update Is Delayed by Budget Deal in Blow to Boeing

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Air Force One.

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
  • First presidential airplane would be ordered in fiscal 2017
  • With few orders for latest 747 jumbo, U.S. is a crucial buyer

An order for the first Boeing Co. 747 jumbo jet for the new, upgraded Air Force One fleet to ferry U.S. presidents will be postponed by a year to fiscal 2017 under a congressional budget agreement.

The delay is a setback to Boeing’s efforts to gin up sales of its humpbacked 747-8 model as unfilled orders for the plane dwindle to about two years of production. The planemaker has netted just two orders this year for its largest aircraft, which pioneered long-range travel in the 1970s.

An omnibus federal spending bill hashed out late Tuesday by congressional negotiators provides $82.4 million for the presidential aircraft, $20.2 million less than the U.S. Air Force had sought for fiscal 2016. The Obama administration had proposed buying the first plane this year and a second one in 2020. Boeing’s 747 is the only U.S. plane that meets the Pentagon’s requirement of a modified four-engine airliner.

The upgraded fleet would replace Boeing jumbos flying since the early 1990s. The new 747s also will be packed with equipment not available to commercial customers, including dual auxiliary power units, military avionics, self-defense systems and “autonomous enplaning and deplaning” systems, according to a Feb. 1 budget document.

A message left for comment with Boeing’s defense unit wasn’t immediately returned.

While the Senate had approved full funding for the Air Force One upgrade, the House had recommended postponing the aircraft order “until the design for the aircraft’s mission systems, which constitute a majority of the program’s projected cost, benefits from further risk-reduction activities, and the Air Force finalizes an acquisition strategy.”

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