President Barack Obama’s budget calls for the cancellation of the $13 billion presidential helicopter program. Efforts to replace the Sikorsky Marine One helicopters the White House has used for 25 years began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The new helicopters would give the president better communication capabilities while in the air.
However, technical problems (the aircraft weighs too much and is to be outfitted with sophisticated electronic gear that has not yet been developed) have repeatedly forced the program’s restructuring, and in recent months the Pentagon ordered key work halted to reassess its design and necessity.
The new commander in chief called Lockheed Martin’s presidential helicopter program, hit by soaring cost overruns, an example of the government procurement process “run amok.” He added that he thinks the existing White House helicopter fleet seems perfectly adequate.
Some 800 workers at Lockheed Martin in Owego, N.Y., work on the Marine One project. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), and other politicians are fighting to keep the project alive.
In a written statement, Hinchey said, “To walk away from this program now would be to completely waste several billion dollars already spent on the program and cause the president to continue flying around in an outdated helicopter that was designed in the 1950s and constructed in the 1970s.”
Rep. Arcuri added, “We can’t sacrifice local jobs during these tough economic times or the safety of our commander in chief.”
A representative from Lockheed said he is not surprised and is awaiting further instructions on the future of the presidential helicopter program. The appropriations bill Congress passes will ultimately determine what programs are funded.