In this June 20, 2019, photo, a model of the new Air Force One design sits on a table during a meeting between President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. | AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President-elect Joe Biden has made no secret that he wants to reverse course on a host of President Donald Trump’s initiatives as soon as he’s sworn in next January.
But can he restore Air Force One to its classic color scheme — after Trump set about changing it to his signature red, white and dark blue — before the two new planes are handed over to the government in four years?
“Yes. That’s the way it’s always been,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, who said Biden could “easily” make the change at this point in the program and that he expects the incoming president to bring back the classic light-blue-and-white livery.
“When Trump changed it, it was clearly just to resemble his own aircraft,” Aboulafia said. “New coats of paint are very easily applied.”
While the move is expected, it’s not yet clear whether Biden will actually go through with it. The transition team would not comment on whether he has considered restoring the plane to the old colors, which have been in use since the presidency of John F. Kennedy.
Context: Trump unveiled his plan for an Americana-inspired red, white and dark blue design in a July 2019 interview with ABC. He said he was making the change for future presidents who would use the jets, not for himself, yet the new scheme bore a striking resemblance to the livery on Trump’s private 757.
“The baby blue doesn’t fit with us,” he told Fox News. “I like the concept of red, white and blue and the classic, and I think it’s going to look much better actually.”
A model of the plane with the new colors was on display in the Oval Office last summer during a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the Pentagon’s fiscal 2021 budget documents included a mockup of the jet with the new paint design.
The Air Force awarded a $3.9 billion contract to Boeing in 2018, and the pair of modified 747s are expected to be handed over in 2024, the final year of Biden’s term.
Status of the plane: The program to produce two planes to carry the president is in the modification phase, according to Jacqueline Sodano, a Boeing spokesperson. That means the contractor is still working on the electrical power and communications systems, an onboard medical facility and the interior workspace for the president.
Boeing would not comment on whether the colors could still be changed. But the Air Force said in July 2019 that the final decision won’t be made until 2021, when Trump is no longer in office.
The Air Force did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the decision.
What’s next: It’s unclear if Biden will decide to keep Trump’s redesign, go back to the plane’s classic colors or come up with something else entirely.
And Congress is likely to stay out of it. Lawmakers initially pushed back when Trump announced the change amid concerns that the modification could affect the cost or delivery schedule of the nearly $4 billion program.
The House Armed Services Committee last year voted, as part of its annual defense policy bill, to limit changes to the interior and paint scheme to what’s already included in the 2018 fixed-price contract. Republicans opposed the measure, considering it a jab at Trump.
A compromise version of the defense bill makes no mention of the plane’s paint job and simply requires the Air Force to notify Congress 30 days before any “over and above” work on the plane is authorized.
Connor O’Brien contributed reporting.