Air Force tells Boeing to start Air Force One work

EVERETT — It’s official: The Boeing Co. is making 747-8s for the U.S. president.

The U.S. Air Force told Boeing on Friday to start preliminary work to replace two aging 747-200s used as Air Force One.

“This initial effort is about reducing risk, really understanding where the tough work will be, finding affordability opportunities, and getting the best value for the taxpayer, while continuing to meet the needs of our commander-in-chief,” said Col. Amy McCain, the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program manager, in a news release.

“This contract gets us started on determining how to modify a 747-8 to become the next Air Force One, and finding opportunities for cost reduction,” McCain said.

The contract will eventually be modified to include design and purchase.

Boeing is expected to deliver the two aircraft in 2018. The Air Force would then spend several years testing them before they enter service.

The current specially modified Boeing 747-200s, known as VC-25s, first flew in 1987 and entered service in 1990. They have been significantly modified three times since.

They have performed well during their nearly 30-year careers, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in the news release. “Yet, it is time to replace them. Parts obsolescence, diminishing manufacturing sources and increased down times for maintenance are existing challenges that will increase until a new aircraft is fielded.”

Industry analysts expect Boeing to shut down the 747 line after finishing the presidential planes.

The Chicago-based company announced plans last week to make fewer 747 jumbo jets — six a year — starting in September. Expecting fewer future sales, the company also wrote off $885 million spent developing and learning to build the 747-8. The loss, which amounted to a $569 million charge after taxes against earnings, was announced last week.

A year ago, James said the Air Force planned to order 747-8s.

“The Boeing 747-8 is the only aircraft manufactured in the United States” that “meets the necessary capabilities established to execute the presidential support mission,” she said at the time.

Boeing has been built seven planes used as Air Force Onefive 707s and two 747s.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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