Trump Wants To Cancel Boeing’s Air Force One

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As Boeing struggles to maintain production of its iconic 747-8 widebody, President-Elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to urge the U.S. Air Force to cancel Boeing’s new Air Force One.

Boeing is in the midst of design and development of at least two new aircraft to replace the current VC-25A aircraft that currently ferry the President around the world. But the incoming President suggested Dec. 6 that he may move to cancel the program altogether, tweeting that costs are “out of control.”

“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!” Trump tweeted.

Boeing leadership reached out to Trump following the tweet, and had a "constructive" conversation about the future of the Presidential Aircraft Replacement (PAR) program, a Boeing source familiar with the discussion tells Aviation Week. But at least publicly, Trump's opinion appears to remain unchanged, and the transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

It is unclear where the $4 billion figure came from, but it may not be far off. The Government Accountability Office estimates the total program cost will be $3.2 billion, including $282.2 million to procure the two aircraft. The rest is research and development (R&D): the Air Force projects it will spend $2.87 billion in R&D funding through fiscal 2021 on PAR. 

However, Boeing has not yet secured any production contracts. The Air Force in September issued a sole-source request for proposals to Boeing, authorizing the company to submit preliminary designs for the new aircraft for fielding in 2024. The company is currently on contract for $170 million for risk reduction and other preliminary work, according to a Boeing statement. 

"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," according to the statement. "We look forward to working with the US 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." 

But speaking to reporters at Trump tower after the tweet, Trump said he thinks “it’s ridiculous” that Boeing’s new Air Force One is so expensive.

“I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money but not that much,” Trump said.

Canceling Air Force One could be bad news for Boeing. In a June regulatory filing, the company floated the possibility of terminating its 747 line if market conditions don’t improve. Boeing reduced output of the iconic jet from one to 0.5 aircraft per month in September. 

Although U.S. presidents have relied on Air Force One for executive travel for decades, Trump may think he doesn't need a government plane to get around. His private Boeing 757-200 is reportedly the 8th most expensive plane in the world, at about $100 million.

However, the VC-25 is no ordinary commercial aircraft. Both are outfitted with electronic countermeasures—including devices that can jam enemy radar—and are able to eject flares to throw heat-seeking missiles off course. Air Force One is also known for having massive amounts of technology onboard, with 85 onboard telephones, a collection of two-way radios, fax machines, computer connections and 19 televisions.

In addition, each aircraft  carries 53,611 gal. of fuel and has a gross takeoff weight of 833,000 lb. to enable the aircraft to fly halfway around the world in an emergency situation. Air Force One  also can be refueled in flight, which gives the president the ability to stay in the air indefinitely, if necessary.

The VC-25 also has a compartment outfitted with medical equipment and supplies for minor medical emergencies. 

Additional reporting by Mike Bruno

 

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