Trump interjects himself in Air Force One, business deals

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2016 file photo, military personnel salute as Air Force One, with President Barack Obama aboard, departs at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. President-elect Donald Trump wants the government's contract for a new Air Force One canceled. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

NEW YORK — President-elect Donald Trump, a political newcomer who touts his corporate skills, turned businessman-in-chief Tuesday, first demanding the government cancel a multibillion-dollar order for new presidential planes and then hailing a Japanese company’s commitment to invest billions in the U.S.

“We will defend American jobs. We have to look at it almost like a war,” Trump thundered in North Carolina, vowing to keep companies from moving overseas during the second stop of his “thank you” tour to salute his supporters. “We want the next generation of innovation and production to happen right here in America.”

Trump was far less bombastic than during the tour’s kickoff in Ohio last week, striking more of the healing notes traditionally delivered by a president-to-be in the weeks after a bruising election.

“We will heal our divisions and unify our country. When Americans are unified there is nothing we cannot do — nothing!” he told the crowd in Fayetteville. “I’m asking you to dream big again as Americans. I’m asking you to believe in yourselves.”

The Republican businessman largely stuck to the script Tuesday — and, in a change, even stopped the crowd when it started to boo the media — and avoided some of the score-settling and scorched-earth rhetoric that defined his campaign and was present again last week in Cincinnati. He also repeated his vow to fortify the nation’s military and brought Marine Gen. James Mattis on stage, officially naming his choice to be Defense Secretary after teasing it last week.

Earlier in the day, Trump plainly telegraphed that when he takes office in six weeks he’ll take an interventionist role in the nation’s economy — as well as play showman when he sees a chance. The celebrity businessman’s declaration about Air Force One caused manufacturer Boeing’s stock to drop temporarily and raised fresh questions about how his administration — not to mention his Twitter volleys — could affect the economy.

“The plane is totally out of control,” Trump told reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower. “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.” Earlier he had tweeted that the deal’s costs were “out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”

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. Details of the deal were scarce and it was unclear if the money was part of a fund of up to $100 billion in global technology investments that SoftBank and the government of Saudi Arabia announced in October.

As for Air Force One, the government has agreed that Boeing will 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.

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 overall deal for researching, developing and building new planes was to be about $3 billion, but costs have been reported to be rising.

The General Accountability Office estimated in March that about $2 billion of the total — for work between 2010 and 2020 — was for research and development on complex systems, not for building the actual aircraft. The inflated $4 billion figure Trump cited appears to include operation and maintenance as well.

Boeing responded to Trump Tuesday in a statement: “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. 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 $170 million figure is just for a portion of the research and development efforts.

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!”

That 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.

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, which is equipped with special safety, defensive and communications equipment. Air Force One also has seating for reporters; Trump generally does not allow the press on his own plane.

Later this week, Trump will use that plane to travel to rallies in Iowa and Michigan, And on Saturday, Trump will attend the 117th annual Army-Navy football game. The game between the two military academies often draws the commander in chief; both Barack Obama and George W. Bush have attended in recent years.


Here’s a look at Trump’s claims about Air Force One, one of the most recognized airborne symbols of the American presidency.

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HOW MUCH WILL THE PROJECT COST?

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 two new aircraft could cost at least $4 billion for development, construction and future maintenance, matching the figure Trump cited. The officials were not authorized to comment publicly about the sensitive military project and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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WHY DOES THE GOVERNMENT WANT NEW PLANES? DOESN’T THE CURRENT AIR FORCE ONE WORK JUST FINE?

While that is true, the current aircraft that the president uses for the bulk of his foreign and domestic travel are getting older and breaking down more often, officials say. Two variants of a Boeing 747 are in rotation. 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.

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WHAT IS BOEING’S ROLE IN THE PROJECT?

So far, the Air Force has spent about $170 million on three contracts to begin to identify the types of military and specialized systems that would have to be added a commercial aircraft the president would use. Boeing has that contract. It would also build the replacement Air Force One.

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CAN TRUMP CANCEL THE PROJECT?

Yes, but not before he is sworn in to office on Jan. 20.

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