POLITICS
05/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Air Force One Photo Op Could Cost Taxpayers Between $27,500 And $213,000

With Reporting By Arthur Delaney

The cost of an Air Force One photo-op over the Statue of Liberty that ended up frightening scores of New Yorkers likely stands between $27,500 and $210,000, according to official estimates of flight costs.

On Monday, the Air Force and White House were criticized for an operation that saw the large Air Force One jet flying at low altitudes over the Statue of Liberty and New York City in an elaborately staged photo-op. The White House released a statement expressing regret and the president was reportedly furious.

Asked on Tuesday how big a bill taxpayers would have to pay for the whole affair, spokesman Robert Gibbs urged reporters to look at a recent Government Accountability Office report that detailed the operating costs for Air Force One craft.

According to that report
-- requested by Rep. Henry Waxman in March 2006 -- "the flight operating costs" of Air Force One "are $56,518 per hour."

That, however, was not the extent of the aircraft involved in the photo-op. Two fighter jets were escorting the big bird over New York City. According to the public affairs office at the Air Combat Command, the cost for operating an F-16D jet is $7,304 per hour (including takeoff and landing) while the cost of the other jet, a F-16 Charlie, is $7,375 per hour.

An Air Force official told the Huffington Post that the estimated time in air was three hours, so the total cost of the mission could exceed $213,000 ($213,591). That total, however, takes into account all the costs that come with operating the Air Craft over time -- from maintenance to man hours -- and not for a lightly-staffed and short operation.

A smaller estimate is being put out by the Secretary of the Air Force public affairs office. As an individual privy to their numbers tells the Huffington Post, the costs they are tallying put the two jets at $1,800 an hour and the VC-25 (the Air Force One craft) at $8,000. With a three-hour mission, the total price in that scenario would be $27,600.

Either total, if accurate, may seem like a waste of money from an administration preaching fiscal prudence. But when put in context it might seem slightly more sensible. One White House aide noted: "These guys weren't in the air just to take a photo. The flights were both routine training missions. They were in the New York area to take the photo."

Also, the most famously bundled aircraft photo op -- George W. Bush taking a fighter jet out to the U.S.S Abraham Lincoln to declare "mission accomplished" in Iraq -- cost between $100,000 and approximately $1 million.

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