US chooses new airplane for Air Force One fleet

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the United States has decided to buy Boeing 747-8 airplanes, not Airbus A380s, to equip the next generation of the Air Force presidential fleet with long-range aircraft.  The formal specifications require four engines, and only two passenger airplanes in the world meet this criterion. 

In fact, “four-holers,” as they are commonly called by aviation buffs, are a dying breed, owing to the improvements in thrust and reliability of current-generation jet engines.  Not only do four-engine airliners require more fuel, but they also require more maintenance expense, a considerable item in the overall cost of operation.

As Reuters reports, the decision to move ahead with 747-8 acquisition may well have been accelerated by the decision of Boeing to slow production of the poorly selling jet from 1.5 per month to 1.3.  Orders for both the 380 and 747 models have been languishing because the newest generation of twin-engine aircraft equal their per seat-mile costs, while offering lower maintenance burden and restricting the supply of seats.  The coming generation 777X is expected to surpass the economy of operation of both super-jumbos.

Airlines have discovered that they need to lower prices to fill large aircraft, while if the supply is restricted, they can charge higher fares for the same journey.  Also, the core market of high-paying business travelers prefer a choice of frequent departures on smaller airplanes over fewer departures of larger airplanes.

Thus, at least until airport capacity becomes a seriously limiting factor, the era of ultra-jumbo airliners is fading away.  Both the 747-8 and Airbus A380 are estimated to have lost billions of dollars for their manufacturers.

Contract negotiations remain ahead, but with one designated supplier, don’t expect taxpayers to receive a bargain.

Pentagon officials said they had selected the 747-8 without a formal competition and would proceed with discussions with Boeing to work out the details of a contract.

In addition, the presidential fleet requires huge amounts of custom work not found in a civilian airliner, so Boeing can be expected to do a cost-plus arrangement and make out just fine, even as industry gossips suggest that other buyers of the airliner are being offered deep discounts.

One head of state is already in receipt of an executive version of the 747-8.  That is the emir of Qatar, whose airplane can be seen landing at Paine Field, site of Boeing's factory, in this video.  For now, he can say to the POTUS, “Mine’s bigger.”  

(screen capture from YouTube)

And that will remain true until the new presidential aircraft is delivered, and that will be a matter of years, not months.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the United States has decided to buy Boeing 747-8 airplanes, not Airbus A380s, to equip the next generation of the Air Force presidential fleet with long-range aircraft.  The formal specifications require four engines, and only two passenger airplanes in the world meet this criterion. 

In fact, “four-holers,” as they are commonly called by aviation buffs, are a dying breed, owing to the improvements in thrust and reliability of current-generation jet engines.  Not only do four-engine airliners require more fuel, but they also require more maintenance expense, a considerable item in the overall cost of operation.

As Reuters reports, the decision to move ahead with 747-8 acquisition may well have been accelerated by the decision of Boeing to slow production of the poorly selling jet from 1.5 per month to 1.3.  Orders for both the 380 and 747 models have been languishing because the newest generation of twin-engine aircraft equal their per seat-mile costs, while offering lower maintenance burden and restricting the supply of seats.  The coming generation 777X is expected to surpass the economy of operation of both super-jumbos.

Airlines have discovered that they need to lower prices to fill large aircraft, while if the supply is restricted, they can charge higher fares for the same journey.  Also, the core market of high-paying business travelers prefer a choice of frequent departures on smaller airplanes over fewer departures of larger airplanes.

Thus, at least until airport capacity becomes a seriously limiting factor, the era of ultra-jumbo airliners is fading away.  Both the 747-8 and Airbus A380 are estimated to have lost billions of dollars for their manufacturers.

Contract negotiations remain ahead, but with one designated supplier, don’t expect taxpayers to receive a bargain.

Pentagon officials said they had selected the 747-8 without a formal competition and would proceed with discussions with Boeing to work out the details of a contract.

In addition, the presidential fleet requires huge amounts of custom work not found in a civilian airliner, so Boeing can be expected to do a cost-plus arrangement and make out just fine, even as industry gossips suggest that other buyers of the airliner are being offered deep discounts.

One head of state is already in receipt of an executive version of the 747-8.  That is the emir of Qatar, whose airplane can be seen landing at Paine Field, site of Boeing's factory, in this video.  For now, he can say to the POTUS, “Mine’s bigger.”  

(screen capture from YouTube)

And that will remain true until the new presidential aircraft is delivered, and that will be a matter of years, not months.