Military personnel salute as Air Force One, with President Barack Obama aboard, departs at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, on Nov. 6. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Trump says Boeing’s Air Force One contract should be canceled

Herald news services

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump accused the Boeing Co. on Tuesday of running up the price of replacing Air Force One, as the president’s airplane is commonly known.

Acquiring two new presidential aircraft could cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $4 billion. Trump called the amount “ridiculous,” while defense and aerospace experts described it as expensive but reasonable given the extensive capabilities and extreme demands required of the modified Boeing 747s.

“I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number,” he told reporters at Trump Tower in New York. “We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.”

That comment followed a post on Twitter by Trump early Tuesday: “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 Air Force has not actually ordered any airplanes. However, it has indicated that it plans to buy two 747-8 Intercontinentals, the biggest and newest version of Boeing’s iconic 747.

Demand for the giant jet has dropped in recent years, and many aerospace industry experts predicted that Boeing would close the line after providing the new Air Force One planes. However, the 747 line got a boost when Boeing received orders for 14 freighters from UPS.

So far, Boeing has received three contracts worth $170 million to begin developing some of the complex gadgetry required on the modified aircraft, which are not expected to be ready for service until 2021 at the earliest. More likely, they will start shuttling the U.S. president around in 2023, meaning Trump would not travel on them unless he is re-elected.

“We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of this complex military aircraft that serves the unique requirements of the president of the United States,” Boeing said Tuesday in a statement. “We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best plane for the president at the best value for the American taxpayer.”

Air Force One essentially serves as an airborne White House. It is protected against nuclear blasts and electromagnetic pulses, serves as a mobile command center in the event of an attack, can refuel in flight, has an emergency operating room, and can feed and accommodate the president’s entourage and traveling press.

“No matter what you do it’s a very expensive aircraft,” said Mark Cancian, who worked on defense budget issues at the Office of Management and Budget and is now a senior adviser with the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Air Force One is actually the call sign of any Air Force plane carrying the commander-in-chief. Right now that usually refers to a pair of heavily modified Boeing 747-200B series aircraft, which were built in Everett in the late 1980s. They entered service a few years later with the tail codes 28000 and 29000, and have been used by every president since George H.W. Bush. The Air Force’s presidential fleet includes military versions of the 757, 737 and Gulfstream V. The president also has flown aboard unmarked Air Force planes such as the C-17.

Boeing has built presidential jets since the 1960s.

Speaking to the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association on Friday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg voiced concerns about the lashing free trade received during the presidential campaign. He stressed that the criticisms came from both Democrats and Republicans. However, Trump’s relentless attacks against free trade agreements outpaced those from all other candidates.

As president-elect, Trump has no power to cancel procurements, but the Air Force has yet to issue a contract for the next-generation Air Force One, which will include two planes.

Federal budget documents published in February estimated research, test and development costs on the program to be around $2.8 billion. The figure doesn’t include the costs of the two planes, however. When that is factored in, the price tag may be around $4 billion, U.S. officials said.

Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group, said Trump’s tweet was “completely nonsensical and based on exactly nothing. But it’s very difficult to adjudicate on complicated program management and military requirements questions with Twitter as your medium.”

It is rare for a president-elect to publicly call out a company by name because of the chilling effect it might have, and it wasn’t clear what prompted Trump’s complaint. Boeing’s shares were down 0.8 percent in early trading after Trump’s tweet before the stock market opened.

Trump sold all his Boeing stock in June, transition spokesman Jason Miller insisted, though no documentation was made public.

“This really speaks to president-elect’s focus on keeping spending down across the board,” Miller told reporters. “We are going to look for areas where we can keep costs down and look for areas where we are going to try to save money.”

Trump now uses his own plane, a Boeing 757, which he has outfitted with white leather and gold, a large flat-screen television and a bedroom. But as president it is expected that he would travel aboard the Air Force jet. Air Force One also has seating for reporters; Trump generally does not allow the press on his own plane.

This story uses information from Tribune News, The Washington Post and The Associated Press.

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