DEC. 6, 2016
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump, who has for years flown in a jet bearing his name, appeared to cancel a pending order for a new Air Force One, saying Tuesday morning on Twitter that the upgrade would cost too much.
The post appeared to come out of the blue: Mr. Trump had not focused during the campaign on the cost of Boeing’s plans for a next-generation plane for the president.
And his criticism of the contract to build on a newer Boeing 747-8 airframe raised the possibility that he might prefer to keep flying his own, well-appointed 757.
The Secret Service and the Defense Department might object to Mr. Trump keeping his own airplane. Beyond convenience, Air Force One carries an array of top-secret communications gear for conducting everyday business — and for managing a global crisis, if required, while aloft. It is also equipped with a number of never discussed security features.
The current Air Force One, with its white and blue design recognizable around the globe, is aging. There are actually two of the Boeing 747-200B planes, each bearing the famous call sign only when the president is aboard. The Air Force designates them VC-25A.
They were commissioned by President Ronald Reagan and delivered during the term of his successor, President George Bush. The new plane, which the Defense Department had hoped to deliver to the White House by 2023, would have been more powerful, able to travel farther and more technologically advanced.
But given Mr. Trump’s Twitter post, it is unclear when — or whether — Air Force One will get an upgrade.
In remarks to reporters at Trump Tower shortly after his message, Mr. Trump made clear that he was serious about the issue. He accused Boeing of escalating the costs of building a new plane.
“The plane is totally out of control,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s going to be over $4 billion for Air Force One program, and 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.”
In a statement just before noon on Tuesday, Boeing made no mention of Mr. Trump or his post on Twitter, but it said it remained committed to proceeding with the upgrade to Air Force One.
“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,” said the statement, which was posted on the company’s website. “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.”
As an icon of presidential power, Air Force One has no equal and presidents of both parties have repeatedly expressed that they would miss flying the world on it once they leave office. President Obama last year said the plane was the No. 1 perk of his office.
But it is also an expensive perk, reportedly costing as much as $180,000 per hour to fly. And building the plane, with its top-secret communications and defenses against attacks, runs in the billions of dollars. As of last year, the Air Force had asked for $3 billion over the next five years to develop and build the planes.
That has long prompted concerns over waste among government watchdog groups. And it is not only the president’s plane: During Mr. Obama’s tenure, the cost of replacing the equally iconic Marine One helicopter fleet had grown so much that Mr. Obama canceled that order, too. A new contract has since been drawn up.
Air Force One is much better known across the world, serving as the backdrop for the president’s arrival in countries both friendly and not.
On Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush flew the plane from air base to air base, staying aloft because of Secret Service fears that he might be targeted as the government scrambled to assess the terrorist attacks in New York and elsewhere.
While impressive — the current Air Force One is 4,000 square feet, including a bedroom and office for the president, conference rooms and a cabin for the traveling news media — it is not gold-plated like the fixtures in Mr. Trump’s plane.
It is unclear what motivated Mr. Trump’s Twitter post. Aides to the president-elect did not respond to requests about whether he or others on his team had conducted a review of the Boeing contract.
On the morning transition conference call with reporters, Mr. Trump’s spokesman, Jason Miller, said the president-elect sold his entire stock portfolio in June. The remarks were in response to a question about an old Twitter post from Mr. Trump boasting about purchasing Boeing stock.
Last week, Mr. Trump announced a new panel of corporate advisers, called the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum. One member of that panel is W. James McNerney Jr., the former chairman and chief executive of Boeing.
There is no reason Mr. Trump could not continue using the current Air Force One. Even if the Boeing contract goes forward, it is unlikely that a new version of the plane would be ready before the tail end of a second Trump term, should he win one.
So Mr. Trump’s action — if he follows through on canceling the Boeing contract — would affect his successor more than himself.