WASHINGTON — The new Air Force One airplanes now could be delivered as much as three years late.
Andrew Hunter, the U.S. Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said at a Thursday hearing held by the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower and projection forces panel that 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 to be delivered in late 2024. But 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 brought in other subcontractors to address the first subcontractor’s failings, and the prime 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 service 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 added, when problems like this emerge, it can take time to understand changes in schedule.
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 must 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, the service official said.
As the Air Force builds its fiscal 2024 budget, he added, the service 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 that 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 CEO 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 noted, Boeing doesn’t have a deep bench of other employees with the proper clearances to take over.
Calhoun also spoke in frank and regretful terms about the deal the company reached with the Trump administration on the Air Force One program, calling 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 covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.