Trump seeks to withdraw order for Air Force One upgrade

White House disputes $4bn figure president-elect said was ‘out of control’ cost of Boeing order

US president-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday urged the government to cancel an order with Boeing Company to develop a revamped Air Force One – one of the most prominent symbols of the presidency – saying costs were out of control.

Mr Trump, who takes office on January 20th, pledged during his unconventional campaign for the White House that he would put his skills as a businessman to work for taxpayers, and had griped about the cost of president Barack Obama's use of the presidential aircraft.

It was not immediately clear what prompted his complaint about Boeing on Tuesday, but a spokesman said that Mr Trump was sending a message that he intends to save taxpayers’ money.

“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!” Mr Trump said on Twitter before making a surprise appearance in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, where he amplified his comments.


“The plane is totally out of control. 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,” he told reporters.

White House response

The White House does not know where Mr Trump got his figure of more than $4 billion (€3.73bn), a spokesman said on Tuesday.

“Some of the statistics that have been cited, shall we say, don’t appear to reflect the nature of the financial arrangement between Boeing and the Department of Defense,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

It was not clear what Mr Trump’s source of information was for the cost. The budgeted costs for the Air Force One replacement programme are $2.87 billion for the fiscal years 2015 through 2021, according to budget documents.

A March 2016 report from the US Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency, estimated the total cost of the two planes, which have to be extensively modified so they can function as an airborne White House, was estimated at $3.2 billion.

Boeing has not yet been awarded the money to build the two proposed Air Force One replacements. It is currently working on engineering and designing the 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, " the company said in a statement.

“We look forward to working with the US Air Force on subsequent phases of the programme allowing us to deliver the best planes for the president at the best value for the American taxpayer.”

Boeing shares dipped after Mr Trump’s tweet and were down about 0.5 per cent at midday. Shares of several other major defence contractors were also lower.

A wealthy property developer, Mr Trump used his own Boeing 757 to campaign around the country, pledging to shake up Washington.

A spokesman for Mr Trump said that his comments about the plane reflected the president-elect’s desire to keep down costs across the board, and so save taxpayers’ money.

The US Air Force, which operates the presidential planes, first announced in January 2015 that Boeing’s 747-8 would be used to replace the two current planes that transport the US president.

The Air Force has two planes in case one breaks down or needs to be taken out of service for maintenance. The two replacements for the current Air Force One planes are scheduled to be in service by the 2024 fiscal year.

Boeing officials were caught off guard by Mr Trump's comments since the company is simply meeting requirements mapped out by the Air Force in consultation with the White House, said defence consultant Loren Thompson, who has close ties to Boeing and other companies.

The cost of the planes is high because of the unique security requirements and communications equipment, Ms Thompson said.

“Air Force One has unique mission requirements, including possibly having to operate in a nuclear war,” Ms Thompson said. “Of course it’s not like buying a vanilla Boeing jumbo jet.”

US presidents have used Boeing planes since 1943, according to the company’s website.

The 747-8 planes, 73m long (240ft) with a wing span of 68m (224ft), can fly direct from Washington to Hong Kong, 1,600km (1,000 miles) farther than the current Air Force One.

In a September 2015 Rolling Stone profile of Mr Trump, early on in his presidential campaign, he was quoted as gushing about the capabilities of his own Boeing plane.

"I bought this from Paul Allen and gutted it top to bottom. It's bigger than Air Force One, which is a step down from this in every way. Rolls-Royce engines; seats 43. Did you know it was featured on the Discovery Channel as the world's most luxurious jetliner?" he said.