Fact-Checking Trump's Air Force One Cost Claim

The estimated cost of two new aircraft include development, construction and future maintenance

President-elect Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that he would cancel Boeing's contract to build a new presidential aircraft to replace the aging Reagan-era model that currently shuttles the president around the world, inaccurately citing "out of control" costs of more than $4 billion in a tweet.  

Trump began his onslaught against Boeing at 8:52 a.m., tweeting "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!"

The tweet came 22 minutes after The Chicago Tribune posted a story in which the Boeing CEO voiced concerns about Trump's views on trade. The president-elect then descended to the lobby of the Manhattan skyscraper that bears his name to reiterate his case.

"The plane is totally out of control," Trump told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower, deeming the deal "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."

But Trump's tweet was factually incorrect. The U.S. Air Force contract is for a pair of Boeing 747 jets, not one, to replace the two variants of the aircraft that are in rotation. Boeing has not yet been awarded the money to build the proposed replacements. 

"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," Boeing responded to Trump Tuesday in a statement.

The Government Accountability Office, the government's auditing arm, in March of this year estimated total program costs at more than $3.2 billion between the 2010 and 2020 federal budget years. Separately, Defense Department and Air Force officials say the overall cost of two new aircrafts, including development, construction and future maintenance, could cost at least $4 billion. 

The government has contracted with Boeing to build two new planes, which would go into service around 2024. That means Trump might never fly on the aircraft, which carry U.S. presidents around the globe.

"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 company added.

The Air Force has pressed for a faster schedule, saying the aging current Boeing 747s are becoming too expensive to repair and keep in good flying shape. 

The current aircrafts that the president uses for the bulk of his foreign and domestic travel are getting older and breaking down more often, officials say. The planes were built in the 1980s and began flying in the early 1990s. One took President Barack Obama on a trip to MacDill Air Force in Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday.

Air Force One, the distinctive blue-and-white plane with the U.S. flag on its tail and the presidential seal, 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 take advantage of the most-up-to-date advances in technology.

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 travel with him aboard Air Force One 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 that 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. Trump generally does not allow the press on his own plane.

Boeing shares dipped in pre-market trading after Trump's tweet, creating what amounted to a paper loss of around $1.5 billion in the company's market value. But shareholders who held onto the stock didn't end up losing anything from the knee-jerk reaction, as the stock actually rose in regular market trading.

Trump had tweeted in 2013 that he owned Boeing stock, but a spokesman said Tuesday he sold all of his stock holdings in June. That sale was not publicized by the campaign at the time, and aides did not reveal how much cash it might have generated.

If Trump had held onto his stock portfolio, he would have been required to repeatedly file reports with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. A 2012 update of the Ethics in Government Act obliges presidents and other senior government officials to report such transactions.

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.

Not long after his first appearance, Trump returned to the lobby with Masayoshi Son, the CEO of SoftBank, a massive telecommunications company that counts Sprint among its holdings. Trump pointed proudly to Son's commitment to invest $50 billion in the United States, which Trump said could create 50,000 jobs.

Trump — who also tweeted the deal — shook Son's hand and posed for photos, reveling as he had last week when he toured a Carrier plant in Indiana where he said he had instigated an agreement that will preserve about 1,000 jobs the appliance maker had planned to move to Mexico.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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