OPINION: America’s Leaders Fly Boeing

A weekly business column by Don C. Brunell

It now looks like Boeing will add at least two more aircraft to the U.S. Air Force fleet which flies our country’s leaders around the world.

They are the most recognizable—-the 747s traditionally called “Air Force One”. The recent news that President Trump’s Administration now approves replacing the current presidential jets with larger and more modern 747s cements the deal. It means the new Air Force One, a 747-8, could be flying presidents within five years.

That’s good news for the more than 70,000 Boeing workers in the Puget Sound region, where the company makes 737, 747, 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner passenger jets. The other good news, which is the often overlooked, is the other blue, white and silver airplanes with “United States of America” painted on the fuselage and the American flag on the tail are predominately made by Boeing.

For example, Vice President Mike Pence flies on one of eight modified Boeing 757’s which are dubbed “Air Force Two” when he is aboard. Those aircraft also fly the First Lady, Secretary of State and, at times, some top governmental officials on overseas missions.

Rounding of the fleet is a number of 737s which fly members of Congress and other cabinet officials on official government business, such as meetings with foreign officials. Those aircraft also were assembled in Washington.

The new Air Force One contract is worth $3.9 billion and Trump Administration says there is a $1.4 billion cost savings. Shortly, after his inauguration, the new president sharply criticized the costs of the replacing Air Force One. The program was reviewed and renegotiated.

The Puget Sound Business Journal signaled a final deal may be in the works last September when the U.S. Air Force has awarded a $600 million contract to Boeing for early design work on the next Air Force One jets. The contract covers design of the communication system, electrical power upgrades, medical facility, executive interior and defense systems on the two 747-8 aircraft.

While commercial airlines are achieving cost savings by retiring 747s in favor of 777 and Airbus jumbo jets which have greater fuel economy, Pentagon officials scrapped the idea of the 777 as a replacement a couple of years ago. The 747s, with four-engines, provide greater space, thrust and flexibility to add protective systems for the President.

The current Air Force One, which was put into service when President George H.W. Bush was inaugurated in 1990, is a smaller version of the new aircraft. That aircraft is reaching the end of its projected 30-year life.

Flying Air Force One is expensive. In 2012, the Congressional Research Service estimated it cost $179,750 per hour to operate. Current estimates peg it as high as $228,000.

When Air Force One is used for political purposes, campaign organizations must reimburse the U.S. Treasury an amount “equivalent of the airfare that they would have paid had they used a commercial airline,” according to the Congressional Research Service. Like his predecessors, President Trump often piggybacks official events onto his fundraising trips, which further reduces the amount campaign organizations must pay.

Oddly, the formula to determine what campaigns pay is a secret. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the reimbursement rate on mixed events has remained a mystery over the course of several presidencies and only the White House counsel knows the formula.

But discussion of the use of Air Force One is for another time. For now, having two new 747 jets built in Washington is good news for Boeing, the company workers and suppliers, and our economy.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.