The White House announced Tuesday it had reached a deal with Boeing for two presidential airplanes for $3.9 billion, ending months of negotiations that began after Donald Trump threatened to cancel the program even before he took office.
The deal marks the culmination of months of negotiations over what was one of the stranger procurements in years. A month before he was inaugurated, Trump injected himself into the middle of negotiations, complaining about the cost of the planes, which go by the call sign “Air Force One” when the president in on board, and tweeted, “Cancel the order!”
He then told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower that the effort to build the planes “is totally out of control. It’s going to be $4 billion for the Air Force One program, and I think that’s ridiculous. I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number.”
On Tuesday, the White House claimed that the fixed-price contract would save taxpayers more than $1.4 billion. Much of the savings were due to the cost of the two airframes, which were sold to the government at a “very, very substantial discount to the American taxpayers,” according to a Boeing official not authorized to speak publicly about the arrangement. He said other savings came as a result of Boeing’s experience in building such complex planes, which are designed to keep the president and top government officials safe in all kinds of emergencies, including a nuclear attack.
But he said the requirements of the planes were essentially unchanged.
In a statement, Boeing said “President Trump negotiated a good deal on behalf of the American people.” But neither Boeing or the White House provided any details, including the cost of the airframes, about where the savings came from.
Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace consultant with the Teal group, wasn’t buying it. The $3.9 billion number was about the $4 billion figure that defense analysts and had predicted the planes would cost.
“Boeing learned first of all the defense contractors that you have to flatter Trump, you have to give him credit for any number of things no matter fictitious,” he said. He said that as proof of a real cost reduction, he would be on the lookout for a “long laundry list of very technical changes, say different an electronic warfare suite, the elimination of a backup generator. I will also be looking for evidence of pigs flying across the sky.”
That afternoon, Boeing scrambled. Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s chief executive, called the president-elect, and said that for Boeing the program wasn’t a large profit generator, and that making the presidential aircraft was more a matter of prestige.
Muilenburg told Trump that “it’s Boeing’s honor to be a part of the program,” the company official said. “There has never, ever been a major profit built in, and we just want to work with you to try and figure this out.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Christian Davenport