Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/09/air_force_one_replacement/

Could the Airbus A380 be the new Air Force One?

Obama's chopper is European

By Lewis Page

Posted in Government, 9th January 2009 16:21 GMT

The US government has issued a "survey" in which it asks industry to offer proposals for a replacement Air Force One - the presidential plane. A modernised Boeing jumbo jet is by far the likeliest contender, but one should note that the planned new presidential helicopters will actually be European made - there is an outside chance for the Airbus A380 superjumbo as the President's aeroplane.

Corporate art of the new Marine One in presidential paintjob

The President would never fly in a foreign aircraft. Err...

The US Air Force, in charge of the commander-in-chief's longhaul transport, has issued a request for information under the banner "Presidential Aircraft Recapitalisation". As the airmen note, the existing VC-25 planes are modified Boeing 747-200s, a type which has now ceased service with airlines. This has made spare parts and tech support much more expensive than formerly.

According to the USAF, this means the time has come to get some new planes:

The Air Force conducted an Analysis of Alternatives to examine if it would be more cost effective to maintain the current Air Force One, or to buy a new aircraft. Given the diminishing parts supplier base, increasing maintenance time, and system upgrades that would be necessary to meet future air traffic control requirements, it was found that replacing the VC-25 was the most cost effective option.

The new jets will be "a new-build, commercial derivative, wide-body aircraft" to be delivered from 2017, with second and third planes following at two-yearly intervals. Assuming that something at least as large as a 747-200 is wanted, this would seem to limit the field to just two candidates: Boeing's jumbo, still being manufactured in the form of the much-modernised 747-8, and the European double-decker megalifter, the Airbus A380. The Ilyushin Il-96 doesn't seem especially likely still to be on offer by 2017, and hasn't sold especially well even in Russia.

Normally, America's Boeing would be seen as a foregone conclusion. However, the replacements for the current Presidential helicopters (operated by the US Marines, callsign "Marine One") are actually based on the EH/AW 101 design from UK/Italian company AgustaWestland, already in service with European armed forces under the name "Merlin". So the unthinkable concept of the US president travelling in a foreign aircraft is already reality. (Albeit the US 101 presidential choppers are being assembled in the States, and will see a lot of American workshare.)

Furthermore, the US Air Force recently said it wanted to place a huge order for air-to-air refuelling tankers in Europe rather than with American factories. As it turned out, the USAF was told to think again by oversight politicians and authorities in Washington, and the tanker deal remains in flux. But the air force itself would seem to have an open mind on the question of buying overseas, and at least initially it is the air force which will handle the Air Force One purchase.

Flight International quotes Boeing spokesmen as saying: "Clearly we understand the presidential requirements ... [we] look forward to supporting our customer’s needs in the future."

Airbus said it would "settle on a course of action" after reviewing the air force call for information. ®