The U.S. Air Force has decided to terminate a $24 million contract awarded to Boeing to replace refrigerators on Air Force One after news of the upgrade prompted concern among Capitol Hill lawmakers.
The Air Force, working with the White House Military Office, reviewed the investment for the “chiller replacement” and decided to terminate the effort, weighing the high cost of the new refrigerators against progress on replacement planes for Air Force One that are in the works, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said.
If the delivery of the replacement presidential jets is delayed, the Air Force and the White House Military Office may need to reconsider buying the new refrigerators, Wilson added, writing in a May 29 letter to Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., that the lawmaker published this week.
The Air Force has said the refrigerators currently on board Air Force One are based on old technology and were designed for short-term food storage, and are increasingly failing in hot and humid environments. From now until the delivery of the new fleet, the Air Force plans to apply interim fixes, which Wilson described as “mitigation options.”
“While not optimal, mitigation options exist to ensure food security until new aircraft are delivered,” Wilson said in the letter. “The Air Force has notified Boeing of the government’s intention to cancel the subject contract.”
The decision comes a little over five months after the Air Force awarded a government contract to Boeing, agreeing to pay $23,657,671 to replace two of the five chiller units on the planes used by President Donald Trump.
Technically speaking, any plane the president is traveling on becomes known as Air Force One for the duration of the commander in chief’s travel, but two 28-year-old modified Boeing 747s generally operate as Air Force One.
Boeing reached a deal this year to build replacements for those two presidential airplanes for $3.9 billion, to be delivered as early as 2024. The deal came after months of negotiations that followed Trump’s threat to cancel the program due to high costs. The White House said the revised deal with Boeing for the two airplanes would save taxpayers more than $1.4 billion.
The high-cost refrigerator contract was first reported by Defense One, which said the Air Force had been looking for chillers that could store about 3,000 meals to feed passengers and crew for weeks without resupplying.
Courtney, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services subcommittee on sea power and projection forces, who had inquired about the refrigerator contract, praised the Air Force for terminating it, saying it “didn’t pass the smell test.”
“I commend the Air Force for reversing this decision and look forward to working with them to ensure the next-generation Air Force One program stays on schedule,” Courtney said in a statement.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Paul Sonne