Saudi-owned company has contract to work on Air Force One

National Security
by Michael Cochrane
Posted 2/22/16, 08:53 am

A U.S. company owned by a Saudi investor has performed work on Air Force One and other VIP aircraft, according to a recent report in USA Today. While the revelation might cause security fears, the Air Force insists its screening processes are adequate to keep U.S. leaders safe.

GDC Technics, based in Fort Worth, Texas, was acquired in 2013 by MAZ Aviation—an aviation holding company owned by Saudi businessman Mohammed Alzeer—and has been servicing Air Force One as a subcontractor to Boeing. The Pentagon’s acknowledgement of GDC’s work is the first admission that a contractor with foreign business ties has worked on the official presidential aircraft, according to USA Today.

Although the White House declined to comment for the USA Today report, the Air Force insisted existing security measures for contractors working on Air Force One are “proven and effective.”

“While we can’t go into specific details about security measures, there are stringent security protocols in place,” Air Force spokesman Lt. Col Chris Karns told USA Today. “GDC, a subcontractor to Boeing, does not have unsupervised access to the aircraft nor do they have access to sensitive information about the plane.”

GDC Technics specializes in fitting out and refurbishing the interiors of elite and luxury aircraft. Its website claims the company delivers “the finest VIP & head-of-state aircraft modifications to the world’s most discerning clientele.”

“They have a pretty long track record of dealing with things like this—specialty aircraft and refurbishing the insides of it,” said J.V. Venable, a senior research fellow for defense policy at the Heritage Foundation who specializes in air programs. “When you’re looking at a luxury platform, something like a Gulfstream or above, that has very fine upholstery and cabinetry for distinguished visitors coming through, all of that stuff is done by a couple of companies and this company is one of those.”

Venable added that GDC Technics, or any company doing classified or sensitive work for the government, must be vetted through an investigative process run by the Defense Security Service (DSS).

“If you’re going to do any classified work, then everyone in an organization that has any leadership role, particularly ownership, in the company has to be vetted through that process,” he told me. “And they’re very detailed in it. So any foreign investment whatsoever has to be flagged and it triggers a couple of investigations and a couple of other firewalls that are built into the process.”

Foreign ownership of key U.S. infrastructure has been an issue in the past, according to the USA Today report. In 2006, Congress prohibited the acquisition of U.S. port facilities by the United Arab Emirates company Dubai Ports World. 

But Saudi Arabia is a U.S. ally. And although all the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens, Venable thinks security fears in this case are overblown and that MAZ Aviation’s decision to acquire GDC Technics was purely financial.

“This looks like a pretty good American company that was purchased by a larger aviation holding company,” Venable told me, adding that many other specialty companies in the defense sector that work on military aircraft have to deal with financial uncertainty. “But this one, the fitting of elite aircraft and the refitting of elite aircraft, will be around for a long time.”

Michael Cochrane

Michael is a retired Defense Department engineer and former Army officer who is an adjunct professor of engineering management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MFCochrane.

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