The cost of operating Air Force One was $179,750 an hour, according to government estimates in 2012. Taxpayers pay for some or all of the Air Force One cost regardless of whether the president's airplane is used for official trips or unofficial, political purposes.
Specific Air Force One Costs
The $179,750 hourly Air Force One cost covers everything from fuel, maintenance, engineering support, food and lodging for the pilots and crew and other operational costs that include the use of special communications equipment.
In addition to the hourly cost of Air Force One, taxpayers cover salaries for Secret Service staff and other assistants who travel with the president. Occasionally, when there are more than 75 people traveling with the president, the federal government will use a second passenger airplane to accomodate them.
What is an Official Trip?
Perhaps the most common example of official Air Force One use by the president is traveling across the United States to explain and win support for his administration's policies. Another is traveling overseas on official state business to meet with foreign leaders, such as President Barack Obama's 2010 trip on Air Force One to India.
When a president travels on official business, taxpayers cover all Air Force One costs including food, lodging and car rentals, according to the Congressional Research Service. During official trips taxpayers also cover the cost of travel for the president's immediate family and staff.
What is a Political Trip?
The most common example of a political trip on Air Force One is when the president travels to a destination in his role not as commander-in-chief but as de facto leader of his political party. Such travel would be to attend fundraisers, campaign rallies or party events.
On the campaign trail, Obama and other presidential nominees have also gotten to use armored buses that cost more than $1 million each.
When Air Force One is used for political purposes, the president often reimburses the government for the cost of food, lodging and travel. The president or his election campaign pays back an amount that is "equivalent of the airfare that they would have paid had they used a commercial airline," according to the Congressional Research Service.
According to The Associated Press, though, the president or his campaign does not pay for the entire Air Force One operation cost. They pays an amount that is based on the number of people board the airplane. Taxpayers still pick up the cost of Secret Service agents and the operation of Air Force One.
Political and Officials Trips
The a president and his family and staff travel on Air Force One for a combination of political and officials purposes, they typically reimburse taxpayers for the part of the trip that is considered campaigning.
For example, if half of the president's trip is spent raising money for his or another official's election, he or his campaign will reimburse taxpayers for half the cost of his travel, food and lodging.
There are gray areas, of course.
"When they travel and appear in public to defend their policy positions, the difference between their official duties and their activities as leaders of their political party can be difficult to assess," the Congressional Research Service reported in 2012.
"As a result, the White House decides the nature of travel on a case-by-case basis, attempting to determine whether each trip, or part of a trip, is or is not official by considering the nature of the event involved, and the role of the individual involved."