Trump says cancel new Air Force One: Boeing costs 'totally out of control'

KOMO News: Trump says cancel new Air Force One: Boeing costs 'totally out of control'
By Associated Press & KOMO Staff

NEW YORK - Six weeks from taking office, Donald Trump says he wants the government to cut some costs by canceling its order for a new Air Force One, the plane that carries presidents around the globe.

The government has contracted with Boeing to build two or more new planes, which would go into service around 2024. That means Trump wouldn't fly on the new planes unless he pursued and won a second term. But the Air Force has pressed for a faster schedule, saying the current planes are becoming too expensive to repair and keep in good flying shape.

The contract for the planes was to be about $3 billion, but costs have been reported to be rising. Trump tweeted 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!"

Asked later by reports to clarify, Trump said, "Well, the plane is totally out of control. It's going to be over $4 billion for this Air Force One program, and I think it's ridiculous. I think Boeing is trying to do a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.”

The General Accountability Office estimated in March that about $2 billion of the total - for work between 2010 and 2020 - was for research and development, not the actual planes. The inflated $4 billion figure Trump cited appears to include operation and maintenance as well.

Trump began his Twitter onslaught against Boeing at 8:52 a.m., 22 minutes after The Chicago Tribune posted a story in which the Boeing CEO voiced concerns about Trump's views on trade.

Asked for comment on Trump's statement, Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said, "We are going to have to get back to you after we figure out what's going on."

The aerospace giant, which manufactures the jumbo 747 planes in Everett, later issued a statement saying:

"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. 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."

The $170 million figure is just for a portion of the research and development efforts.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the plane hasn't been ordered, so there can't be cost overruns. But experts said $4 billion might be a reasonable estimate.

However, the newspaper reported that Boeing doesn't expect to make money on Air Force One and that this is no off-the-shelf jet.

"Air Force One needs to be designed to survive a nuclear war. It requires all sorts of undisclosed security upgrades and countermeasures. It can refuel in flight. The actual cost of the plane will depend on the equipment that goes into it. There also needs to be extensive testing, probably lasting two years, before the plane is deemed ready for presidential travel."

Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, who represents the Boeing Everett plant where the 747 is made, backed Boeing in a statement they released

“Replacing the 26-year-old Air Force One aircraft will support good-paying jobs throughout Northwest Washington and is important to ensuring the safety and security of future presidents. The president-elect’s tweet does nothing to change those basic facts.”

The price of Boeing stock dipped after his comments but not drastically. Trump had tweeted in 2013 that he owned Boeing stock, but a spokesman said Tuesday he sold all of his stocks in June.

Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with the Washington D.C.-based Teal Group, said he doesn't believe that Air Force One costs are as high as Trump suggests.

"I think this is based on exactly nothing. He just felt like tweeting it, for whatever - grudge, or whatever purpose. But in terms of basis in reality, no, there's none," Aboulafia said.

But he admits President Trump would have the power to cancel the program.

"He does have the power to cancel it. It would be a baffling move," he said.

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, which is equipped with special safety, defensive and communications equipment. Air Force One also has seating for reporters; Trump generally does not allow the press on his own plane.