Boeing responds after Trump knocks contract for Air Force One jets
Donald Trump declared Tuesday morning that the Air Force should cancel its contract with Boeing to build two new presidential airplanes, asserting that the agreement had a $4 billion price tag.
“Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” the president-elect tweeted.
It's not clear how Trump, who frequently tweets exaggerated or baseless claims, arrived at that number. Reuters, citing budget documents, reported that the “budgeted costs for the Air Force One replacement program are $2.87 billion for the fiscal years 2015 through 2021.”
The aircraft manufacturing company issued a statement clarifying that it is currently under contract for $170 million to determine the capabilities of the new aircraft.
“We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the President of the United States. We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best planes for the President at the best value for the American taxpayer.”
This preliminary process is expected to determine the ultimate cost that the forthcoming Air Force One aircraft will cost taxpayers.
“Well, the plane is totally out of control,” Trump told reporters in Trump Tower. “It's going to be over $4 billion for the Air Force One program. And I think it's ridiculous. I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.”
An Air Force One aircraft at Joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Jason Miller, Trump's communications director, further told reporters that Trump's tweet “really speaks to the president-elect's focus on keeping costs down across the board with regard to government spending.”
He continued: “I think people are really frustrated with some of the big price tags that are coming out for programs even in addition to this one. So we're going to look for areas where we can keep costs down and look for ways where we can save money.”
The full details of the new contract have not yet been released, but some of the costs can be attributed to the high-end security and communications demands of a roaming commander in chief.
A president needs the ability to travel anywhere on the planet quickly and with little notice. The aircraft has unlimited range because it is capable of refueling while airborne. The jet can function as a mobile command center if the U.S. is under attack. It contains sophisticated, secure communications equipment and onboard electronics that can protect against electromagnetic pulses.
The term “Air Force One” can be used to describe any aircraft carrying the president, but since the mid-20th century, it became associated with jets specifically equipped for the president. Now the term refers to one of two modified Boeing 747-200B series aircraft.
“We have many decades of productive relationships with presidential administrations from both political parties and I would expect that we will reach the same point with the Trump administration,” Todd Blecher, a spokesman for Boeing, told Yahoo News.
Aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there are unique technical requirements for the project to ensure that future presidents have upgraded capabilities while representing the United States abroad.
As for Trump's tweet, Earnest said, “I'd refer to my colleagues at the Department of Defense for the particulars of the procurement contract. Some on the statistics that have been, uh, cited, shall we say, don't appear to reflect the nature of the financial agreement between Boeing and the Department of Defense,” according to a pool report.
He said that the current Air Force One is “nearing the end of its projected life” and that future presidents should have a “modern presidential aircraft.”
A profile on the White House's website says Air Force One is operated by the Presidential Airlift Group, founded during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt in 1944. The group is part of the White House Military Office.
“Air Force One is one of the most recognizable symbols of the presidency, spawning countless references not just in American culture but across the world,” the website reads. “Emblazoned with the words 'United States of America,' the American flag, and the Seal of the President of the United States, it is an undeniable presence wherever it flies.”
Kevin W. Buckley, an executive officer at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson in Ohio, told the Dayton Daily News that it's become harder to keep Air Force One airborne now that the aircraft are reaching to end of their 30-year life expectancies.
“The real challenge, and the challenge that is forcing us to buy newer aircraft for the president, is to overcome the fact that there are heroics going on every day to keep the current aircraft flying and it's becoming way too expensive and way too difficult to do that,” he said to the paper.
According to the Associated Press, the new Air Force One planes would go into use around 2024, so Trump would not use them to travel around the world unless he won a second term.
Donald Trump arrives in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York to speak to members of the media, Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)
Trump does have plenty of familiarity with Boeing's products. While campaigning, he crisscrossed the country in a private Boeing 757 with his last name emblazoned on the sides. As with all things bearing his name, Trump has praised his private jet as being the best of its kind.
The Trump Organization released a video gushing about the plane's Rolls Royce engine, 24-carat gold-plated seat belts and luxury amenities.
Back in January 2013, Trump tweeted that he was buying stock in Boeing after it had gone “way down.” At the time, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner's lithium batteries were a widely reported problem.
“@Boeing stock went way down because of 787 — so I just bought stock in @Boeing — great company!” he wrote.
His comments Tuesday seemed to have knocked that stock price down some, but his net worth apparently won't be affected. “The president-elect sold all of his stock back in June,” Miller, Trump's spokesman, told Yahoo News on a conference call with reporters.
Additional reporting by Hunter Walker.