Air Force Finds Better Deal Trump Wanted for Air Force One

August 1, 2017 Updated: August 1, 2017

President Donald Trump sent shockwaves through the defense industry when he said that the price tag for the new Air Force One presidential jet was too high. Now the U.S. Air Force found a sweet deal: a pair of brand new Boeing 747 jetliners abandoned by a bankrupt Russian airline.

The U.S. Airforce (USAF) is likely getting a great deal on the jets, which normally list at about $390 million. Boeing had been paying to store the jets in the Mojave Desert, while it looked for a buyer, so USAF negotiators had leverage to ask for a good price, sources told Defense One.

Officials are finalizing a contract with Boeing, according to three officials who know about the deal, Marcus Weisgerber of Defense One reported. The Pentagon may announce the deal this week.

“We’re working through the final stages of coordination to purchase two commercial 747-8 aircraft and expect to award a contract soon,” Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The specific value of the contract is likely to remain under wraps, but officials told Defense One that the military is getting a good deal on the jets. The average list price for the Boeing 747-8 is $386.8 million, but the price varies depending on the quantity purchased, configuration, and other factors.

“We’re still working toward a deal to provide two 747-8s to the Air Force—this deal is focused on providing a great value for the Air Force and the best price for the taxpayer,” said Caroline Hutcheson, a Boeing spokeswoman in a statement.

The two jets were ordered by Russian airline Transaero, which has since gone bankrupt. Boeing built two out of the four jets ordered, but Transaero never claimed the planes.

Airlines usually pay one percent down for new aircraft, but Transaero didn’t make the scheduled payments, an industry source told Defense One.

A Transaero Boeing 747 is parked at Moscow's Domodedovo airport on October 8, 2015. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A Transaero Boeing 747 is parked at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on October 8, 2015. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

“Aeroflot absorbed most of Transaero’s existing fleet, but declined to pick up Transaero’s 747-8I orders worth $1.5 billion at list prices,” FlightGlobal reported last month.

Boeing tested the two jets and flew them to the Mojave Desert for storage. The dry climate there is ideal for preventing corrosion. Boing has been paying the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville a fee for storing the jets while it finds a buyer.

Once purchased, the 747 jets will undergo a significant transformation. Contractors will install communications systems, defensive countermeasures, and a shell that will help it withstand an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear explosion. The new interiors would feature offices and seating for staff and journalists.

According to the Pentagon 2018 budget, the Air Force plans to spend $3.2 billion on two new Air Force One jets between 2018 and 2022. That means Trump may fly on one of the two jets if he is re-elected.