back to article Could the Airbus A380 be the new Air Force One?

The US government has issued a "survey" in which it asks industry to offer proposals for a replacement Air Force One - the presidential plane. A modernised Boeing jumbo jet is by far the likeliest contender, but one should note that the planned new presidential helicopters will actually be European made - there is an outside …


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  1. Michael

    Fit the middle deck for passengers

    and fill the top deck and cargo bay with all the counter-measures their little paranoid minds can come up with...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    as if

    As if the people in charge woudl allow money to go overseas to europe....

    But they expect us to buy from them

  3. SkippyBing

    Size matters

    I think one of the Middle East rulers has already asked for an A380 in VIP configuration so the question is can the Americans bear the thought of the President travelling in the second biggest head of state aircraft?

  4. David Hicks
    Black Helicopters

    And he needs a massive passenger jet why?

    I know the US like to think their president is important, but seriously, 747 or 380 for him and a few staff?


  5. Charles
    Black Helicopters

    And he needs a massive passenger jet why?

    The bulk of the need for size is the need to carry many of the amenities and necessities of the White House along for such a big trip. This includes a kitchen, conference room, bed, comm center, and even a clinic. Plus there's not just for the President but also everyone else on board...and there are quite a few people needed for an Air Force One trip: usually staff and security but also journalists and VIPs. I would also imagine another chunk of the size requirement falls to larger fuel tanks needed to be able to get anywhere around the world as required.

  6. Steve Todd

    Mr Hicks doesn't seem to have a grasp

    of the size of the traveling circus involved here. Often they have a second aircraft following with lower ranking press and hangers on on board. On airforce 1 there's the higher ranking press, plus the military support staff and comms equipment should the president decide to declare war on somebody, plus his political staff, plus any higher level politicos he might want to invite along. I'm pretty sure they could fill an A380 without trying too hard.

  7. Michael

    @ David Hicks

    Him, his staff, their staff, security for all of the above, reporters & other assorted media people, extended fuel tanks, aerial refuelling capability and enough computer and communications equipment to run the country from mid-air, anywhere in the world.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Not just a few....

    @David Hicks

    You do realise that when the President goes abroad, practically the whole mechanism of state goes with him? Various administration figures, often families, White House staff, cooks, Secret Service detail, Marines, Air Force (including the one with the "football" containing launch codes for the nukes) and loads of press also fly in the back of AF1.

    Then there are the other aircraft that take the modified limousines, helicopters, armoured Chevvy Suburbans and heaven knows what else too?

    So the "few staff" comment is way off, it's dozens if not hundreds of them.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    The US president needs a big aircraft...

    So that he can fly around and tell people how big, bad and important his crumbling, bankrupt empire is. Better listen to him.

  10. Eddie Johnson

    Wasteful much?

    A superjumbo? At a time when citizens across the US and the world are being asked to reduce consumption and pollution perhaps the president should be considering a small Gulfstream or Learjet.

  11. Graham Marsden

    "an outside chance"...?

    I think you meant "a snowball's chance in hell" of any of the pork going overseas in these "challenging economic times"!

  12. GHok

    Yeah @ Graham

    There is basically no chance that it'll go to anyone other than Boeing. Stranger things have happened, but I'd be really surprised.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Antonov 225 anyone?

    Should they ever need a larger aircraft, there is always the Antonov 225. Discovery channel said that if it was set as a passenger plane, it would carry 1,000+ passengers with ease.

    As a cargo plane, it carries 250 metric tons of stuff inside it, or 200 tons on the upper rack (where Buran used to hitch...). Not to mention it could land everywhere, including unpaved dirt and grass.

    Too bad there are only two of these, and only one is airworthy.

  14. kain preacher


    Airbus won the contract already.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Boeing Not American Anymore

    Boeing sold out to China long ago. Taught them all about building airframes and wings. A european source might actually be more reliable.

  16. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Hardly pork...

    Surely the Head of State of any country should buy locally and support their own industry? What would it say about the US if they picked a foreign aircraft? I would expect them to buy US goods, even if they were worse.

    However, I would expect Airbus Industrie to point this out, and ask for some assurance that they were not wasting their time before responding. In fact, I think I would ask to be paid for providing my submission, since it is highly unlikly to be used for anything more than beating down Boeing's price....

    Black Helicopters seem suitable for this conversation...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @Graham Marsden

    The problem is the gov't allowed everyone to merge until Boeing is the only game in town now, and Boeing knows it and hasn't been reluctant to take advantage. Boeing and Lockmart are the only two aircraft defense contractors left, and Lockmart does mainly fighters and not big jets.

    The USAF is not pleased that they're bent over a barrel, which is why the tanker deal happened the way it is. I'm sure a lot of this RFP wording is "look bitches, we WILL look elsewhere if you try to stick us up again."

  18. Gary

    Stop the insanity

    European-sourced aerial tankers, European-sourced Marine One, and now they're thinking of a European-sourced Air Force One? Why, exactly? Seems to me that the US Presidential and Armed Services should, I dunno, source their various mobile units from the US itself. It's not like we'd exactly be saving money, with at least a good portion of the money going to places outside the US. How can they justify sending even more money outside the US when the incoming administration is talking about creating jobs and stimulating the economy?

    It was a bad idea to buy a foreign-sourced helicopter for Marine One, and it's and even worse idea to buy a foreign-sourced Air Force One. What kind of message does *that* say? "Here comes the President. Except he doesn't like flying in aircraft made in his own country. Yet somehow he wants to convince the world how great the US is"...

  19. goggyturk


    It has happened in the past - branches of the US do sometimes buy European, or even British designs ahead of indigenous, but for a project this big? I doubt it.

    The Pentagon is determined to keep Boeing afloat no matter the cost. Just look at the dodgy deal they cut to 'lease' some extra 767 tankers a couple of years ago.

    PS - If the Yanks read El Reg, they'd know that the Merlin is crap. I know this because Lewis keeps on telling us.

  20. John

    @AC as if

    No, we expect you to buy crap from china like all the rest of the world.

    I'll get my coat, mines the one with the USAF patches all over the back.

  21. Charles


    And what kind of message does it show to succumb to monopolies? Boeing is the only wide-body maker in North America right now--no one else comes close to possessing the capital and facilities to make something big enough. So you either gotta broaden your horizons, cave in, or just not go. Unfortunately, time's running out for the Air Force, meaning option #3 is out. So what leaves you with less egg on your face--farming out or supporting a monopoly?

  22. Anonymous Coward


    Silly people here. If a European source is better or more efficient than an American source, then the military will go for it.

  23. Gary

    @Boeing monopoly

    Just because the US government failed to take action against a monopoly that it's own failed economic policies allowed, doesn't mean they should now cry foul and go with a non-US-sourced aircraft just to spite Boeing.

    Besides, what's one monopoly to another? Sure, Airbus Industries may be a consortium, but besides Boeing and Airbus, who else is there? I really don't think the US would go with a Russian-sourced aircraft, considering our relations with them aren't exactly that great right now. That sort of makes the options: a) go with a US-sourced monopoly, b) go with a European-sourced monopoly. It seems given the current economic situation, it would be better to try and prop up the local economy before worrying about if that money will be supporting a monopoly or not.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just an idea...

    Wouldn't it be better to refit a few C-17s?

    They're already maintaining a fleet, it's already Mil Spec and it can take off in half the distance.

  25. Anonymous Coward


    With the way the US economy is tanking I guess all they will be able to afford is a Heuy and DC3 for the presidents personal birds.

    Obviously the vice president doesn't fly with the president in AF1. So for the last 8 yrs, Bush could of used a 2 seater Cesna for flying in and left AF1 to be used by the real man in charge.

  26. John Griffiths

    gas guzzler

    Talking to an international pilot a few weeks ago he was extremely unimpressed with the A380, apparently they really suck down a phenomenal amount of juice.

    Not a good thing for the needs of AF1

  27. Russ Williams

    Most of the money will go to the US either way

    In the KC-X deal, the Airbus tankers were due to be assembled in Alabama, providing a significant number of jobs for American workers. Boeing's (frankly impressive) rearguard action convinced Congress that this was somehow unAmerican, and that the jobs should go to its factory in Washington state instead - all the while fighting a machinists strike!

    So, yeah, an A380 built and fitted out in the US, with US (General Electric) engines, is not unthinkable. Most people couldn't tell the difference anyway and, arguably, the important part is the blue and white colour scheme and the words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" on the side.

    I disagree that the 747-8 is the likely choice... it's huge, but it's still the legacy 747 platform. More likely would be a 787 and a reduction in the number of auxiliary and ancillary staff - if they're needed, a second plane can carry them. Until Reagan, Air Force One was a 707 derivative - about half the length and wingspan of the current one.

    (Of course, the best option would be to buy/appropriate the design authority and IPR for Concorde and start up a US production line. Doesn't matter that it's foreign: how many other presidential jets can supercruise?)

  28. James Woods

    can we buy different politcal officals?

    If they are going to outsource air force one can we outsource the next president? With the way this country is going some random guy in his parents basement in a dirty t-shirt can run the country or at least the federal reserve better then the skull and bones we have in power.

  29. BillPhollins
    Thumb Up

    Pigs Can Fly

    Yeah my uncle built stuff (by which I mean avionic pods etc) for these copters in Denmark. There's 30 of em if I remember correctly.

    Yes the title was supposed to be a bacon pun, I think that was a fail.

  30. TJ
    IT Angle


    Gary's right. Boeing and Airbus are the last of the giants. But industry is treading towards Smaller/Faster/More Efficient jets, Such as Bombardiers or Gulf Streams. So its really a no-brainer for Boeing. If Bombardier WANTED to bid, they might have a chance, but with no proven jumbo, its unlikely. They DO have until 2017 to figure it out though, And I think it would be fun watch another contender get into this game. There is just no money in jumbos right now, or probably ever again. (Unless its transport).

  31. Anonymous Coward

    @Russ Williams

    "Of course, the best option would be to buy/appropriate the design authority and IPR for Concorde"

    BA wouldn't sell Richard Branson a Concorde, so letting the IPR go is a no-no. Besides, Concorde was quite small !

    Chance it will go to a European company = 1 / infinity

    Boeing "own" enough congressmen - that's why the Airbus deal for refelling jets is stalled. Obama is protectionist, it'll never ever happen.

  32. snafu


    Why don't they use the Airbus Beluga. Yes, it would like a bit silly, but they could have a Presidential swimming pool :D

  33. Adam White

    McCain would've bought an A380

    I'm just sayin' is all...

  34. Neoc


    I simply adore the number of US commenters who think the Airbus/Boeing decision rest with the President. Wake up - Obama won't get a say in it - this will be decided by the Air Force and the Secret Service. (and very likely congress... don't they just love to stick their noses into everything, especially when they have no clue).

    Well... they *might* let him pick the decor...

  35. TeeCee Gold badge

    Re: gas guzzler

    No shit, Sherlock! It takes a lot of fuel to move a big aircraft. Now look at the fuel burned per passenger / freight kilo mile and compare it to, say, a 747. This is why, with fuel economy as pretty much the top driver in airline purchasing decisions in the current economic climate, the 380 has a fat order book.

    If it was in any way uneconomic on fuel, Airbus wouldn't be able to give the sodding things away.

  36. Allan Dyer
    Paris Hilton

    @And he needs a massive passenger jet why?

    To accommodate the terrorists-disguised-as-journalists and the traitorous Secret Service guy in the back, of course! I saw a documentary on it. Apparently the president at the time is also well-known in archaeology...

  37. Torben Mogensen

    Airport requirements

    IIRC, the A380 can not land in all international airports, as it requires wider runways than previous passenger planes to accommodate its wider wingspan. So choosing this plane would limit the places the president can visit in AF1.

    Also, I can't see why all his staff needs to be in the same airplane as him. They can communicate wirelessly if they need to talk, and having a fleet of N identical planes where the president can be on either one would improve security. And it would allow adjusting the size of the fleet depending on needs. Having a single colossal plane that would often be half-empty seems wasteful.

    Better yet, let him show his dedication to the environment and fly a Zeppeliner. :-)

  38. Parax

    Marine One

    Is a VH71 Kestrel Manufactured by Bell Helicopter. It is a variant of the European designed EH101 aka AW101 aka Merlin, but is made over there... so not overseas jobs money or parts etc..

    The 380 is unlikely to be made on us soil has no US jobs and is unlikly to have US parts available. so is unliklly to be a contender.

    My money is on a larger fleet of dreamliners (787's)...

  39. TK

    I doubt it'll be a A380

    There are a few problems....

    As Torben pointed out, there are airport concerns with the aircraft. The A380 is so large that it's currently fairly limited in the number of airports it can arrive and depart from, though many airports are in the process of upgrading. However, the same way that the plane is designed to stay up indefinitely if need be, it needs to be able to come down as quickly and if the nearest airport can't support that, it'll be a bad security choice, effectively knocking it off the table.

    The second problem would be with fueling. While Airbus could reconfigure the fill (or add an extra) to allow for in flight refueling, there aren't a lot of planes that can carry the weight of the fuel that a A380 would require. It's the Hummer of the skys.

    Finally, in the current economy, it would be political suicide for the Congress to allow the deal to go overseas, particularly when the daily drum beat revolves around stimulating the domestic manufacturing chain.

    While it's remotely possible, and I think the A380 is a pretty cool piece of kit, I don't think it's very likely.

  40. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    No, this is not an issue...

    "IIRC, the A380 can not land in all international airports, as it requires wider runways than previous passenger planes to accommodate its wider wingspan. So choosing this plane would limit the places the president can visit in AF1."

    "As Torben pointed out, there are airport concerns with the aircraft. The A380 is so large that it's currently fairly limited in the number of airports it can arrive and depart from, though many airports are in the process of upgrading."

    The A380 can land at any airport and use any runway or taxiway that a 747 can.This was a design specification.

    The reported problems are not to do with the runways. They are to do with the terminal buildings being able to handle large numbers of passengers at once, and the need to have double-decker walkways to disembark.

    A presidential jet would NOT be disembarked through a terminal. They are usually parked in a secured area of the airport, and steps are used for disembarkation. So, no problem...

  41. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    747-8 the only Boeing option?

    Out of curiosity, why does Lewis say the 747-8 is the only Boeing option? What about, say, a 777ER or 777LR? A quick glance at Boeing's site suggests that they're close to the size of the 747-8. (The ER is a bit larger than the LR.) I'm not an airplane afficionado, so I don't know if they'd be unsuitable for some other reason.

  42. null
    Thumb Up

    Enough Protectionism

    The KC-X deal which would have outfitted the Air Force with the A330 as a tanker platform instead of the 767 was a step in the right direction. For all too long the US government has been supporting US manufacturers that produce inferior products at higher prices on the premise that it "creates jobs" (codewords for "repays campaign contributions"). Sure it might support the ludicrous system that allows college drop-outs to make $30/hr. to turn a screw or push a button, but in the end it's the tax payer that gets shafted.

    I think its WONDERFUL that the US Government is finally growing the balls to hold competitive bids. If the US continues to procure second-rate equipment at mint from US corporations at ming, what message is that sending the industry? They're encouraging inefficiency. We need a couple big deals like this one and the KC-X deal to show these corporations that in order to earn the tax payer's dollars they need to be COMPETITIVE.

  43. Edwin

    Strategic choice

    Swap 2 A380s for some additional JSF orders?

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    They need an A380

    Because American bottoms are so large

  45. Erik Aamot

    should be mid-sized, more fuel effecient

    757 or 767 please ! .. limit the staff and reporter numbers .. lead by example by downsizing a wee bit before asking the public to do so .. hell, let the news agencies pay their own way or use local reporters for stops outside the D.C. area ..

  46. Adrian Coward

    @Torben Mogensen

    Actually, it's not a runway limitation it's mainly a gate/taxiway limitation - the A380 is certified to operate on any runway that a 747 can. Since AF1 rarely (never?) taxis up to the gate, this is less of a problem than you make it out to be.

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