The US Air Force has released a sources sought synopsis for a new presidential aircraft to replace the Boeing 747-based VC-25A. The USAF hopes to replace the long-serving jets with a new "Air Force One" by 2021.

The USAF "is conducting market research to identify potential sources that possess the expertise, capabilities and experience to deliver the required capabilities to recapitalise the VC-25A presidential fleet", the document reads. "Responses to this survey will be used to influence the programme's acquisition strategy," it states.

The current two-aircraft VC-25 fleet will reach the end of its 30-year service life in 2017, according to the USAF. But the 747-200-based aircraft have become much more difficult to maintain as its civilian counterpart has become less common in airline operations.

"Increased heavy maintenance and parts obsolescence costs require the air force to begin planning for the VC-25A fleet replacement," the service says. "Analysis has shown that it is cost beneficial to replace the VC-25A aircraft and operate a new and more efficient aircraft."

The current objective is for any new aircraft to be delivered "not earlier than 2021". The aircraft would need to be specifically customised to meet the US president's needs. However, the basic requirements in the document call for a four-engined aircraft capable of intercontinental range, while still being able to operate from regional airfields.

"Mission communications, data, voice and video must provide secure and interoperable command, control and communications using net-centric architectures," the document reads. "Extensive structural and system modifications to the basic aircraft might be required to allow for self-sufficient operations at airfields with minimal or no ground support equipment, and for access to baggage and equipment storage areas while in-flight."

Additionally, the new aircraft must be able to operate in all civil and military airspace as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration, International Civil Aviation Organisation and the US Department of Defense.

The four-engine requirement means that there are only three possible contenders for the programme: Boeing's 747-8 Intercontinental and Airbus's A380 and A340.

Source: Flight International