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“Air Force One” is actually an air traffic control call sign, not a plane. In fact, any Air Force aircraft carrying the president is designated Air Force One. Technicalities aside, the call sign immediately brings to mind the famous blue and white Boeing VC-25A that the most powerful person in the world uses to rack up frequent flyer miles. There are actually two Air Force Ones, both of which are souped-up, tricked-out military versions of the familiar Boeing 747 — and they’re not exactly cheap planes to own.
Soon a New Air Force One Will Bring a New Set of Bills
A lot has been written about the cost of the work-in-progress Air Force One replacement program, which is scheduled to swap out the aging VC-25As in 2024 for newer, more sophisticated 747-8s dubbed VC-25B. In 2016, the replacement was projected to cost $3.2 billion. As is so often the case, an already big number kept getting bigger and by 2019, Air Force Magazine was reporting that the new planes were expected to cost $5.2 billion. Their 100,000-plus page manuals alone cost $84 million. Much less, however, has been written about what it costs to fly, operate and maintain Air Force One. These aren’t figures that are readily available — and no one even really started asking for them until 2014.
Air Force One Costs 6 Figures To Fly — Every Hour
2014 was an illuminating time for anyone interested in presidential travel. That year, conservative activist group Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records about the costs of flying and maintaining Air Force One for President Barack Obama. The organization won its request, and the Air Force Headquarters Air Mobility Command responded that the cost per flying hour (CPFH) was $206,337 — 10 times the CPFH of a regular Boeing 747. That’s nearly a quarter-million dollars for every hour in the sky. The Air Force was even kind enough to itemize, stating that the dollar figure included the cost of:
Depot level repairables
A few years later in 2017, the sky-high cost of presidential travel was back in the news when the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump had spent $10 million of taxpayer money in his first month in office on travel alone. Just like Judicial Watch did three years earlier when it used an FOIA request to label Obama a spendthrift, Trump’s critics failed to mention that with almost no exceptions, it’s simply not possible for a president to travel by air on any other plane. What did come out of that reporting, however, was a revelation that both identical versions of Air Force One commonly accompany the president on important trips in case one needs repairs, nearly doubling the cost of flying.
Secret Service Records Tell the Tale
In 2018, President Trump spent $17,224,938.46 moving from one place to the next in a single four-month period. Judicial Watch, once again, had sued for documents via FOIA requests — this time in pursuit of Secret Service travel records — and won. Those records showed that Trump’s travel was expensive and extravagant, even by White House standards.
It was littered with campaign events and other nonofficial business like jaunts to Mar-a-Lago. Obama rode Air Force one to campaign events, too, but not in anything approaching the same numbers and when Obama traveled, he didn’t make the Secret Service and his staff stay at hotels and resorts he owned. Although Trump was spending more overall, the cost of operating Air Force One had actually gone down. Four years after the original Judicial Watch report in 2014, the cost to operate and maintain Air Force One had fallen to $142,380 per flying hour, which remains the most recent data available.
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Last updated: March 3, 2021