US Air Force Names Overseer for Boeing’s Air Force One Program

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The U.S. Air Force has apparently gotten the message that President Donald Trump sent earlier this year to Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA): the costs to build a fleet of two new presidential planes designated as Air Force One need to come down. The Air Force has created a new position for a program executive officer for the Air Force One program, pinned another star on Brigadier General Duke Richardson’s shoulder, and named the new Major General to the new post.

Richardson’s appointment comes following a review to finalize requirements for the Air Force One program ordered by Defense Secretary James Mattis. According to a report at Aviation Week, the Air Force “has made some changes to the requirements” that could lower the cost of the program. No specifics were given.

Barely a month following his election in November, then President-elect Trump tweeted out his displeasure with what he said was the $4 billion cost of the Air Force One program. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the total project cost is $3.2 billion, of which $2.87 billion has been budgeted for research and development through 2021. Boeing has received only $170 million for development costs so far. The new planes, based on Boeing’s 747-8, are scheduled for delivery in 2024.

An Air Force spokeswoman said that the service created the new two-star position in order to place the Air Force One program “under strong and effective senior general officer leadership.” Aviation Week calls Richardson, who has been the program officer for the KC-46A tanker program, an “apt choice.” Richardson also will continue with the tanker program until his replacement, Colonel Donna Shipton, assumes the role in early June.

Richardson’s promotion and assignment to the Air Force One program indicate that the Air Force has gotten Trump’s message, sent even before he took office in January, that he expects costs for some defense programs to be watched carefully and reined in where possible. Putting a senior general officer in charge shows that the Air Force is playing toward the only audience it believes counts. No general officer wants to be the subject of a disapproving presidential tweet, nor does the Air Force, even for something as relatively reasonably priced as Air Force One.