Vice President Kamala Harris was due to fly a Boeing 757 (VC-32) to Guatemala on Sunday for official government business. However, her aircraft had to return to Joint Base Andrews (JBA) after the plane suffered a technical issue. No one was injured, and everyone flying to Guatemala was accommodated on another aircraft, and the Vice President and her companions continued with the official visit to Central America.
Air Force Two returns to JBA
Air Force Two departed JBA in the afternoon on Sunday, June 6th. However, shortly after takeoff, the aircraft experienced a technical issue and had to return to Andrews.
Vice President Harris and the rest of the passengers on the aircraft were able to depart safely as another aircraft was arranged. Later in the afternoon, the Vice President was able to depart on another aircraft to Guatemala.
— Opal Vadhan (@OpalVadhan46) June 6, 2021
The Air Force and the federal government have remained tight-lipped about the issue impacting the aircraft. To the Associated Press, Symone Sanders, the Vice President’s chief spokesperson, stated that there were “no major safety concerns” with the aircraft.
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What could the technical issue be?
Technical issues can encompass a wide range of incidents inflight. Some things might be as simple as a light that is not working in the cockpit, while other issues could be a gear not retracting or flaps not coming up.
A pool reporter on the aircraft when the issue occurred was reported to have stated the following:
“There was an unusual noise that came from the landing gear when we took off but the landing back at JBA was completely normal,” says trip print pooler @cmsub.
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) June 6, 2021
In general, pilots tend to err on the side of caution when flying. When the passengers in the back include the Vice President of the United States, even more caution is exercised by the flight crew. So, even if it was a relatively minor issue that did not put anyone in danger, it was likely out of an abundance of caution that the aircraft returned to Andrews.
It may be that there could have been a problem with the landing gear not retracting properly or a tire that burst on takeoff. Nevertheless, the aircraft was able to return safely, and all were able to deplane normally.
No clear replacement for the planes
The Boeing 757s that typically fly the Vice President are getting old. All four VC-32s were delivered in 1998, and are now more than 20 years old. However, the Department of Defense is not actively looking at replacing the aircraft in the near future.
It is unclear if this will lead to a change in that strategy, but some of the structural problems with replacing the 757s remain. For example, while the Vice President is typically the most prominent user of the jet, the President can also use the aircraft to fly into smaller airports where the more well-known Boeing 747 cannot reach.
The problem is that there is no clear Boeing 757 replacement. While some dignitaries fly on the Boeing 737 in the US Air Force fleet, the 737 is smaller than the 757 and does not have the long-haul capabilities that the 757 can accomplish.
Boeing also does not have an appropriate 757 replacement. Even when considering the 737 MAX 10, that aircraft has not yet entered commercial service, let alone be ready to fly dignitaries like the President or Vice President.
While Boeing mulls its plans for a plane that fits into the commercial market, the Boeing 757 fits in, the United States Air Force may need to keep maintaining these aging 757s to fly dignitaries for some time to come.