WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump took aim at Air Force One on Tuesday, criticizing the cost of the iconic 747 jumbo jet that has served as the president’s flying White House and projected America’s might wherever it lands.
The aircraft used by President Barack Obama, built by Chicago-based Boeing Co., have been in service since the Reagan administration and are due to reach the end of a 30-year design life in 2017.
Boeing, which has built presidential jets since the early 1960s, has been doing early development work on the replacement likely to be outfitted with the latest in gadgetry, including top-secret communications equipment, countermeasures to spoil missile attacks, and aerial refueling capability so it can fly for days without landing.
Trump would not get a chance to fly in a new Air Force One unless he is re-elected; the replacement isn’t slated to begin flying until 2021 at the earliest. So far, Boeing has been given three contracts amounting to $170 million to develop the aircraft, which is based on the new and larger version of the 747 dubbed the 747-8 Intercontinental.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
With worldwide demand steadily shrinking, Boeing has repeatedly slowed the 747 production rate to one per month. The company said this year that if new orders didn’t roll in, it was “reasonably possible that we could decide to end production of the 747.”
In its heyday, Boeing was producing 60 jumbo jets a year, with many of the components coming from Southern California. Boeing has several hundred suppliers in the U.S. supporting the 747 program, many of them in California.
One of the largest is Triumph Aerostructures, which assembles the 747’s center fuselage panels in Hawthorne.
The only other large commercial aircraft manufacturer is Airbus Group SE, which is based in Leiden, Netherlands.
Trump told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York Tuesday morning that he thought the Air Force One program was “ridiculous.”
“I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number,” he said. “We want Boeing to make a lot of money but not that much money.”