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US makes deal to buy 747s once set for Russia as Air Force One

[NEW YORK] The US Air Force reached a deal with Boeing for two 747 jets to serve as Air Force One, taking advantage of an unusual limited-time discount on planes once bound for Russia.

"We got a really good deal," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said Friday in an interview.

"I'm pleased with that."

The pact sets the stage for a modernised Air Force One program after President Donald Trump criticised its cost, threatened to cancel the order and later boasted of negotiating with Boeing to reduce the expense.

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The US planemaker has had the jumbo jets in storage since they rolled off the assembly line in 2015 for Transaero Airlines, a Russian carrier that never signed for the jets before dissolving later that year.

The Air Force didn't disclose the price for the two planes, saying in a statement that it's "commercial-competition sensitive."

"This award is a significant step towards ensuring an overall affordable program," Darlene Costello, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said in the statement.

"As we move forward, we will continue to seek and implement cost savings opportunities."

Congressional defense committees approved plans to shift US$195 million in previously approved defence funds for the current year to speed action on the planes, congressional aides said this week.

Boeing offered favourable pricing if a contract was awarded by this month, according to a government funding request. The model carries a list price of US$386.8 million.

The planes would still require extensive - and pricey - modifications to turn them into the flying fortresses that ferry US presidents around the world. The most recent Air Force estimate is that the Air Force One program will cost US$3.51 billion from the current fiscal year through fiscal 2022, mostly for research and development, according to Bloomberg Government analyst Robert Levinson.

The Air Force expects the aircraft to have the range to fly between continents and provide work and sleeping quarters for the president and first family. They also have to be equipped with highly advanced, secure communications and classified defense capabilities.

The White House Military Office is working with the Air Force to define the aircraft's requirements.

As president-elect, Mr Trump tweeted that the "costs are out of control" for the new planes and wrote, "Cancel order".