Executive Branch

Air Force One Cost Overruns Are a Reminder of How Expensive an Imperial Presidency Can Be

Boeing reports that the two new presidential shuttles its building will now be $2 billion over budget.


Sustaining an imperial presidency in the air isn't a cheap proposition. It's somehow managing to get more expensive.

On Thursday, airplane maker Boeing announced that the two replacement Air Force One jets it's building will be further delayed and further over budget. Securities filings first reported by the Wall Street Journal show the company expects to lose an additional $766 million on the new presidential shuttles that are also years behind schedule. That brings the company's total losses on the project to $2 billion.

Boeing cited a litany of reasons for the delays and cost overruns, including the bankruptcy of one its suppliers, COVID-caused supply chain issues, and difficulty finding workers with the requisite security clearances.

The fixed-price nature of its Air Force One contract means taxpayers aren't on the hook for the cost overruns, but Boeing has said it might ask for more money anyway. The Journal says it will still cost the public additional money to maintain the current 30-year-old Air Force One shuttles.

The $3.9 billion taxpayers are giving Boeing to build two airplanes is still pretty galling all on its own. The expense of the new jets is partially explained by the security and communications equipment they have to come with and the massive commercial airliner size. All of that is intended to keep the president in constant, secure contact with the government on the ground, while also providing enough room for journalists, foreign leaders, and other members of the president's retinue to fly along with him.

It all starts to feel monarchical pretty quickly. That's because America, despite its best historical efforts, has ended up with an imperial president who sits atop a vast federal government that spends trillions a year on various interventions and interferences in private citizens' lives. The president is also the commander of one the largest militaries in world history, whose forces are constantly embroiled in conflicts and military operations overseas.

For anyone who would prefer a far smaller federal government—and one less dependent on the whims of the executive branch in particular—the tremendous price tag of Air Force One is a reminder of how far away we are from that reality.

Ideally, the president wouldn't need to be occupied 24/7 with the details of dishwasher regulations and drone strikes while jetting off to another climate change summit. If he weren't, we'd all be a little freer, a little richer, and a little safer too. The president would also benefit from a less hectic schedule. With fewer responsibilities, he could afford to put his phone in airplane mode while he travels.

That's not the world we live in. A $3.9 billion flying White House is arguably a necessity for a modern president. We'd be better off with one who could do their job traveling in business class.