The US Air Force is close to awarding a contract to purchase two Boeing 747s once destined for Russia to serve as the future Air Force One presidential airplane.
''We're working through the final stages of coordination to purchase two commercial 747-8 aircraft and expect to award a contract soon,'' said Ann Stefanek, Air Force deputy chief of media operations.
The service is reportedly getting a good deal on the jets, which list for around $390 million and are now sitting in the Mojave Desert.
This came after President Donald Trump said the projected cost of new Air Force One aircraft was too high, so the US Air Force found a way to lower it: by buying the pair of Boeing jetliners abandoned by a bankrupt Russian airline.
Details regarding the cost of the plane are still being finalised, with an announcement slated this week. News of the negotiations was reported earlier by the trade publication Defense One; it was confirmed Tuesday by the Air Force.
''We're still working toward a deal to provide two 747-8s to the Air Force - we're really focused on providing a great value for the Air Force and the best price for the taxpayer,'' Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson said in a statement.
The cost of the presidential airplane became an unexpected point of contention in the weeks before President Trump took office. Trump tweeted that the program's $4 billion expenditures were ''out of control'', singling out Boeing for cost overruns and saying the order should be cancelled.
Now it appears Boeing has found a way to cut some of the cost in selling two 747-8 jetliners that had been originally ordered by Russian airline Transaero, which was Russia's second-largest airline until it went bankrupt in 2015. Boeing built two of the four jets in the order, but the airline never took ownership of them.
Even if the planes come in at a lower price tag than the average for a 747-8, which Boeing lists at $386.8 million, purchasing the plane itself would be just the first step in the process of standing up the next Air Force One.
Next, a group of subcontractors would work to outfit the planes with state-of-the-art protective measures and advanced communication systems including defensive countermeasures and hardening to withstand an electromagnetic pulse caused by a nuclear explosion. New custom interiors will have conference rooms, offices and seating for White House staff, guests and journalists. All this will add to the ultimate price tag.
The Air Force is not expected to disclose the specific value of the contract, but officials said that the military is getting a good deal on the planes. Boeing lists the average sticker price of a 747-8 as $386.8 million; the actual amount paid by airlines and other customers varies with quantities, configurations, and so forth.
''Aeroflot absorbed most of Transaero's existing fleet, but declined to pick up Transaero's 747-8I orders worth $1.5 billion at list prices,'' FlightGlobal reported last month.
So Boeing flight-tested the two completed jets and put them in storage. Flight tracking data shows that the aircraft, numbered N894BA and N895BA, were last flown in February, to the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville.
The sprawling facility in the Mojave Desert has hot, dry air which prevents corrosion. This ''boneyard'' is largely occupied by retired commercial jets that still bear the liveries of Delta, FedEx, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific. Other planes, unmarked, sit with their engines shrinkwrapped in anticipation of one day returning to flight.
Boeing has been paying to store the two 747s in new condition while searching for a buyer, which allowed the Air Force to negotiate a good deal for them, sources told Defence One. It's similar to the way car dealers discount new vehicles from the previous year when new models hit the lot.