WASHINGTON — The new Air Force One airplanes now could be delivered as much as three years late.
Andrew Hunter, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said at a Thursday hearing held by the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and projection forces the service expects the latest version of the VC-25B presidential plane to be anywhere from two to three years late, “which is obviously quite a significant delay.” The pair of airplanes was originally supposed to be delivered in late 2024.
This means they now may not be delivered until well into the next presidential term.
Hunter said the problem largely stems from a subcontractor’s inability to “get the job done” making vital modifications to the plane’s interior. Boeing has since had to bring on other subcontractors to address the first subcontractor’s failings and has taken on some jobs itself, Hunter said.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported Boeing had experienced production mishaps on the program and told the Air Force the airplanes’ delivery could be 17 months late, but the Air Force felt they would likely be about two years behind.
In Thursday’s hearing, Hunter said the problems with the subcontractor were known some time ago. But, he said, when problems like this emerge, it can take some time to understand how badly the schedule has been affected.
Hunter said he believes Boeing has plans in place to get the planes finished in the new time frame.
But this will mean the Air Force will have to sustain for several more years the current pair of VC-25A Air Force Ones, which are now more than 30 years old and were first flown during President George H.W. Bush’s administration, Hunter said.
As the Air Force builds its fiscal 2024 budget, Hunter said, it will likely ask for more money to keep those presidential planes flying longer.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., told Hunter he’s concerned about the continued troubles with the new Air Force One.
“We are way off the initial plan in terms of replacing that platform,” Courtney said.
The troubled Air Force One program led to $660 million in charges for Boeing in the first quarter of 2022, about half of the total $1.3 billion in cost overruns the company reported on its defense programs.
Boeing said last month schedule delays, rising supply costs and higher costs to finalize technical requirements led to those hefty charges.
Pandemic-related inefficiencies had particularly hit the Air Force One program, Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun said. When workers on the production line for a highly sensitive program like Air Force One have to stop working due to a COVID-19 outbreak, he said, Boeing doesn’t have a deep bench of other employees with the clearances to take over.
And Calhoun also spoke in frank and regretful terms about the deal the company reached with the Trump administration on the Air Force One program.
Calhoun called that contract “a very unique moment, a very unique negotiation, a very unique set of risks that Boeing probably shouldn’t have taken.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.