August 2012

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Is Air Force One the golden ticket for 747-8I?

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AFONE-747-8.jpgQ: Can an order for three aircraft justify the development of a sluggish selling derivative?
A: Yes, if the aircraft is for the leader of the free world.

Boeing has always maintained that the 747-8I will be built, but with only 20 commercial orders from one customer (Lufthansa) and eight from private operators, the justification for development has typically been geared towards blunting A380 sales and a cash-flow reliant Airbus, rather than establishing a major share of the large aircraft market.

Though, the strategic justification for the next generation of 747 may have gotten the shot in the arm it needs to move forward. With the replacement competition for Air Force One now officially open, providing the platform for the most famous airplane in the world might be all the justification Boeing needs. Of course, depending on what the Air Force Mobility Command is looking for, the 747-8 might not be the airplane of choice. Though it appears to be the most likely candidate from Boeing, as the -8I provides a communications deck separate from the rest of the workspace of the airplane.

Though the battle for replacing the twin 747-200s serving as Air Force One might not be as fierce as, let's say, the Tanker contract. Boeing's likely competitor, Airbus, has already taken a skeptical approach to its chances in the competition:
"While Airbus would love to see one of its family members become the new Air Force One, historically it is unlikely any proposal of ours would be very seriously considered."
Though Paul Nisbet, President of JSA research, says anything is possible:
"A few years ago, I would have thought it very, very unlikely that Airbus could win a bid for Air Force One. But, given what's happened with the tankers, it could be conceivable that the Air Force would give Boeing the new tanker contract, and then offer Air Force One as a sop to Airbus."
At the end of the day, serving as the preferred means of air travel for the President of the United States is a marketing coup like none other and Airbus and Boeing won't want to miss the opportunity. Putting R&D resources toward developing the platform would be money well spent.

Original graphics by FlightBlogger

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