By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that he would cancel Boeing’s contract to build a new fleet of presidential aircraft to replace the aging models that shuttle the president around the world. He cited “out of control” costs of more than $4 billion in a tweet that ended with “Cancel order!”
The New York businessman, who flies on his own Boeing plane, later told reporters the cost to the government was “ridiculous,” though he appeared to be citing more than just the bare acquisition costs. Trump said he wanted the aircraft manufacturer to make money, “but not that much.”
Here’s a look at Trump’s claims about Air Force One, one of the most recognized symbols of the American presidency.
HOW MUCH WILL THE PROJECT COST?
The Government Accountability Office, the government’s auditing arm, in March of this year estimated total program costs at more than $3.2 billion, much of it for research and development, through the 2020 federal budget year. Separately, Defense Department and Air Force officials put the cost for two new aircraft at around Trump’s figure of $4 billion. That estimate includes the cost of research and development, construction and future maintenance, according to the officials who were not authorized to comment publicly about the sensitive military project and spoke on condition of anonymity.
WHY DOES THE GOVERNMENT WANT NEW PLANES? DOESN’T THE CURRENT AIR FORCE ONE WORK JUST FINE?
That’s true, but the two modified Boeing 747s the president uses for the bulk of his travels are getting older and breaking down more often, officials say. They were built in the 1980s and began flying in the early 1990s. One flew President Barack Obama to MacDill Air Force in Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday.
The distinctive blue-and-white plane with the U.S. flag on its tail and the presidential seal on its belly is basically a flying office for the president, complete with sophisticated communications, military and other capabilities. Safety of the president is paramount, and the government started the process to replace the aging aircraft with younger versions that incorporate updated capabilities and technological advances.
Air Force One is unlike most aircraft. It can be refueled in the air and, with an unlimited range, can take the president wherever he needs to go. Its electrical systems are hardened to protect against an electromagnetic pulse, and the plane has advanced, secure communications equipment that will allow it to function as mobile command center in the event of an attack on the United States, according to the White House.
The president and most of those who fly with him enjoy 4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels, including a suite for the president with an office and a conference room. A medical suite can function as an operating room in an emergency, and a doctor is always on board. The plane has quarters for those who regularly accompany the president on trips, including White House staff, Secret Service agents, traveling journalists and other guests.
WHAT IS BOEING’S ROLE?
Under the deal, the Air Force would buy the 747-8 aircraft, a newer version of those currently in use as Air Force One. The new aircraft wouldn’t be ready until around 2023 or 2024, the end of Trump’s second term, should he seek and win re-election.
In a statement, Boeing said it looks forward to working with the Air Force “to deliver the best planes for the president at the best value for the American taxpayer.”
COULD TRUMP ASK ANOTHER COMPANY TO BUILD THE NEW AIRCRAFT?
It’s unclear. Trump did not elaborate, either on Twitter or during a brief appearance before reporters Tuesday. Presidents have flown on Boeing aircraft for more than seven decades and the Chicago-based company is the only American maker of these types of planes. Its closest rival would be French aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
DIDN’T OBAMA CANCEL THE CONTRACT FOR A NEW PRESIDENTIAL HELICOPTER?
Earnest, the White House spokesman, said Obama didn’t scrap the project entirely, but ordered the military to restart it to bring the cost projections under control. The Marine One project was further along in the process than the Air Force One upgrade, and with costs much greater than originally expected.
CAN TRUMP CANCEL THE PROJECT?
Yes, but not before he is sworn in to office on Jan. 20.
Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, David Koenig in Dallas and Joseph Pisani in New York contributed to this report.