The Airbus A380 has attracted interest from the US Air Force (USAF) as a cargo freighter and as a large VIP transport in the Air Force One class, says an industry source.

EADS last summer responded to two separate inquiries by the USAF’s Air Mobility Command (AMC) about the A380, which is a double-decker jet delivered to Singapore Airlines on 15 October after a long delay.

AMC’s first request asked EADS to submit data about the A380F Freighter for potential use as a military airlifter, the source said, adding that the company has submitted a reply and expects an invitation to make a presentation in December to AMC officials.

a380-Air Force One Gareth-Burgess
 © Gareth Burgess

The request may be linked to the USAF’s ongoing review of a potentially over-budget re-engining and reliability improvement programme for the Lockheed Martin C-5 fleet. Lockheed insists the programme can be accomplished within the current budget, but USAF estimates indicate a 50% to 100% cost growth.

USAF officials were not immediately available to comment.

Separately, AMC also requested data from EADS about three Airbus jets as part of a market survey for “VIP Large Aircraft Recapitalization”, the source said. The survey solicited data about the A380, A340-600 and A330-200.

The USAF may soon need to recapitalize the VC-25 Air Force One and the US Navy also may face similar pressure to replace the E-4 Looking Glass airborne command post. Both aircraft are based on the Boeing 747-200 and entered service in the early 1990s. Many commercial airliners are retiring the 747-200 due to age and fuel inefficiency.

Boeing’s Global Support Systems (GSS) division is aware that the USAF may need to replace the VC-25 with a new model and intends to offer the Boeing 747-8, which features new engines and wings and is scheduled to enter service in 2009.

Retaining the company’s historic monopoly on the Air Force One fleet is the GSS division’s top priority, Boeing officials say.

Recent acquisition contracts show that presidential aircraft fleets are not immune from transatlantic competition. In 2004, the US Navy selected an Italian-British helicopter design – the EH101 -- offered by Lockheed for the next presidential helicopter.

The Lockheed product, which has since faced cost and technical problems, beat a rival bid from incumbent “Marine One” supplier Sikorsky.

AMC’s two separate requests for Airbus jets arrived as EADS prepared a bid for the KC-X tanker contract based on the A330-200 converted freighter. The US Special Operations Command, meanwhile, has previously asked EADS for information about the A400M. Another EADS division, Eurocopter, is supplying the EC145 to the US Army as a light utility helicopter.