Air Force One: Pricey ride for a service saving money

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The jet that ferries President Obama on his “sequestration” budget campaign, gun-control appearances and vacations is one of the Air Force’s most expensive to fly by the hour.

While the Obama administration has canceled public access to the White House to save money, there does not appear to have been any curtailment of the president’s travel plans.

The plane he uses — with its live-in accommodations, advanced communications, and seating for large numbers of staff and reporters — costs taxpayers nearly $162,000 each flight hour, according to the Center for Defense Information, an acquisition reform think tank.

That makes Air Force One the service’s third-most-expensive aircraft to operate — behind the highly sophisticated and high-maintenance B-2 stealth bomber and the E-4B flying command centers, the airframes of which date back to the 1970s.

Why are the president’s two Boeing 747s so costly to fly? Besides the customized features, the chief reason is that the 747-200B series is old.

The planes were delivered nearly 23 years ago during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The Air Force is looking at Boeing to replace them with new, more fuel-stingy 747s later this decade.

“It’s a pretty old airplane,” retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Marvin Jay Barry, a career transport pilot, told The Washington Times. “The engines aren’t the newest and thus are less fuel efficient. Really, the basic fact is it’s an older-model 747.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force is curtailing flying hours and air shows to save money as the Pentagon tries to meet $46 billion in automatic spending cuts by Sept. 30.

Smaller, single- and twin-engine fighters cost of fraction of the tab to keep Air Force One in the air: The F-15 Eagle costs $41,921 per flight hour, and the F-16 Falcon $22,514, according to the Center for Defense Information, which procured the numbers from the Air Force.

The Predator drone, which hunts down and kills al Qaeda militants, has a per-flight-hour cost of $3,679.

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