Air Force One à l’européenne

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Interesting news today of a slightly bizarre nature (and not for the first time) from the leading Dutch-language newspaper in Belgium, De Standaard: Airbus wants to deliver the next Air Force One. (De Standaard duly credits this story to the French newspaper Le Figaro, but I couldn’t find it there on-line.) The American military is getting ready to open the procurement process for airplanes to replace the two Boeing 747-200’s that currently constitute the fleet for Air Force One, the President’s airplane. And Airbus is preparing to participate, and even thinks it has a good shot at landing the contract.

The American authorities actually have in mind purchasing three planes to replace that current pool of two, although they won’t have to be delivered and ready for use until 2017. Initial submissions as to how the competing manufacturers would modify the planes that they make so as to accommodate the American president’s unique telecommunications and security needs are due by 29 January, and Airbus is busy preparing its documents.

It’s true, as the article points out, that the American authorities have already contracted to replace the helicopters tasked for presidential transportation (a.k.a. “Marine One”) with machines from AgustaWestland, an Italian-British joint-venture. However, you have to go to the Marine One Wikipedia page to learn that those helicopters will actually be produced in the USA under license by Lockheed Martin. (Right, it’s Wikipedia that says that, but this press-release from Lockheed Martin seems to confirm it, if you remember that the “Marine One” helicopters are to be designated as “VH-71.”) What do you think are the real chances that the contract for something as high-profile as Air Force One would go to the Europeans? For that matter, what do you think are the real chances that the American government will be in a position to pay for anything when the airplanes are due to be delivered in 2017?

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