USAF Talking to Airbus About A380 Air Force 1, C-5 Replacement?
Flight International reports that the EADS has responded to 2 separate inquiries from USAF Air Mobility Command (AMC) about its A380 super-jumbo jet, which was delivered to Singapore Airlines on Oct 15/07 after a long delay that saw key customers defer or cancel their orders.
One request was part of a market survey for “VIP Large Aircraft Recapitalization.” AMC currently operates 2 aircraft of this type: the 2 VC-25 “Air Force One” 747-200 planes that transport the President, and can act as a flying briefing room and/or command post, and 4 more C-32 “Air Force Two” 757s that transport the Vice-President, cabinet members, and other figures…
The AMC survey reportedly solicited data about the A380 super-jumbo, the 4-engined A340-600 stretched version, and the 2-engine wide body A330-200. The A330-200 was also submitted to the USAF as the basis of EADS/ Northrop Grumman’s joint bid for the $20-30 billion KC-X aerial tanker competition.
AMC’s first request, however, asked EADS to submit data about the A380F Freighter for potential use as a military airlifter. The C-5 Galaxy’s C-5M AMP/RERP modernization and engine replacement program is the subject of a dispute between Lockheed Martin and the USAF, with Lockheed contending that the increases will be below 15% over the life of the program, and the USAF estimating cost growth of 50-100%.
The C-5 had to beat the freighter version of Boeing’s 747 in order to enter production, so the idea of a modified civilian freighter would not be breaking new ground. The A380F goes a step beyond the 747’s capacity, however, claiming a cargo maximum of 150t (333,000 pounds) – larger than the C-5B’s 286,000 pound maximum. The question is whether the A380F’s structure can be strengthened to handle loads like 70 ton tanks, which distribute great weight within a very small area. If and when the requisite structural modifications can be performed, the follow-on questions would be about their cost, and about the effect they will have on the aircraft’s performance. EADS reportedly expects an invitation to present to USAF AMC in December 2007. See: “EXCLUSIVE: US considers Airbus A380 as Air Force One and potentially a C-5 replacement”
Jan 28/09: EADS announces their decision to withdraw from the Air Force One contest, saying the small size of the order would not have been economical, given the accompanying need to move jobs and engineering into North America in order to fulfill it. Source.
DID Analysis (October 2007)
The C-32s began delivery in 1998, and still have plenty of service life. Barring serious structural or maintenance issues – and we are not aware of any – a move to replace them is very unlikely. Especially given their recent supplementation by the 737-700 based C-40B Clipper fleet.
The VC-25A 747-200Bs, on the other hand, began service in 1990 and will be 20 years old by 2010. They could be candidates for replacement, but an RFP is unlikely in the immediate future. Part of AMC’s job involves having Analysis of Alternatives data ready for use, however, which may help to explain the market survey.
If the replacement aircraft in question are Air Force One jets, the A330-200 is an unlikely candidate due to its comparatively small size. The A340-600, meanwhile, is part of the A340 set that is finding itself squeezed out of the market by Boeing’s more efficient, twin-engined 777 family. Hence Airbus’ program to develop the A350XWB as a competitive counter. The A350 cannot be part of a market survey yet, however, since it has not even been fully designed. Asking for details concerning the A330/A340 jets thus seems to be more about demonstrating thoroughness than demonstrating interest.
The A380 could be a viable Air Force One candidate, however, and the small loss to the domestic economy from purchasing 2 of these jets might be outweighed by symbolism about “a new transatlantic partnership.” Even so, fierce competition and more than a little bit of Congressional opposition can be expected.
On the C-5 front, a win of any size would be a huge boost to the A380F, which saw UPS and FedEx cancel their orders after they lost confidence in even Airbus’ slipped delivery date of 2012. Given the ready alternative of C-17 production, however, military A380F orders are likely to face a very hard sell in Congress, even if the difficult hurdle of persuading Congress to cancel the C-5M program is met.
It’s also worth considering that A380Fs (or indeed, a 747-8F) aren’t exactly cheap alternatives. Having that cost data on hand could be useful in selling either the C-5 AMP/RERP program, or the acquisition of more $210 million C-17s, as part of a thorough analysis demonstrating that even commercial options may not be much cheaper.
Until the play fully materializes, it is very difficult to call at this point. The interest is worth noting – but excitation of any sort is premature.
- Aviation Week (Jan 28/09) – Boeing Only Contender for New Air Force One. EADS decides not to participate. Boeing is reportedly considering the 747-8 and 787 as options.
- Aviation Week (Jan 14/09) – USAF Seeks New Presidential Aircraft by 2017. Three aircraft are sought, with deliveries expected in FY 2017, 2019 and 2021.