Donald Trump Critizes the New Boeing Air Force One Deal. Will It Really Cost $4 Billion?

The federal government operates Boeing 747-200s as Air Force One. The first one was delivered in 1990. The 747-200 itself (in military configuration, a VC-25) was first put into service in 1971.

Last year they entered into a contract with Boeing for two new custom 747-8s to become the new Air Force One.

Donald Trump, who may never get to fly in the new planes, criticized the deal this morning on Twitter.

Some of the coverage has suggested this involves President-Elect Trump criticizing a plane he would benefit from but these planes aren’t expected to go into service in 2024.

There was never any real opportunity for any other plane or any other manufacturer to sell the government a replacement Air Force One. While the Air Force said they’d consider the Airbus A380, Airbus even publicly expressed skepticism they’d even submit a bid.

It’s unclear where the $4 billion figure comes from, though it’s gotten roundly criticized I wouldn’t be surprised if the total cost by the time it enters service runs that high.

It’s currently budgeted at $2.9 billion but of course ‘what counts’ towards acquisition versus operating cost is always going to be an issue when adding up such things are there’s plenty of time for overruns.

The 747-8 has a list price of $368 million. A major airline in a large aircraft order should be buying slow selling planes for about half that. The aircraft acquisition isn’t the major item here. It’s the unique fit out to be Air Force One.

These planes are built:

  • to withstand a nuclear blast
  • to scramble infrared missile guidance systems
  • to jam enemy radar
  • with flares in the wings as countermeasures against incoming missiles
  • with armored windows
  • with retractable staircases, to avoid risk of sabotage when the President lands abroad (or when arriving in China and no stairs are provided)

The plane costs costs over $200,000 an hour to operate. There’s an onboard operating room staffed by a doctor whenever the plane is inflight. The President’s quarters includes not just sleeping quarters and a shower but also a gym. There’s 4000 square feet of interior space. The President has an office, there’s a ‘situation room’ and a staff quarters.

And secure communications, capable of accessing government classified systems, are part of the build.

There’s little question that military projects are subject to cost overruns, and VIP projects subject to VIP cost overruns. A project to replace Presidential helicopters was killed in 2009 with $3 billion lit on fire,

after estimated costs doubled to $13 billion. The White House, the Secret Service and others kept adding capabilities such as high-tech defense systems and even an onboard kitchen that quickly gained notoriety.

Prototype helicopters were ultimately sold to Canada for parts. I think we’ve seen this film before.

The replacement project to build new Presidential helicopters is a 10-figure deal with Lockheed and Sikorsky. Sikorsky parent was United Technologies until last year. United Technologies is also the parent of Carrier, which was recently pressured not to move some of its factory jobs from Indiana to Mexico. It’s a very incestuous world.

While the plane the President flies is known as Air Force One, the President doesn’t always fly on Boeing 747s. For certain short flights and out of airports with short runways the President may fly a military Boeing 757 or Gulfstream 550 business jet without these enhancements. Donald Trump of course already has a 757 that he could rent to the government.

And for the record no one ever climbed on board the wings of Air Force One to escape Cuba.

Update: to clarify that Sikorsky was sold by United Technologies to Lockheed in November 2015.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. are you a politician or travel blogger?
    never even read the article you wrote other than the title.

  2. Why doesn’t he do a thorough review before opening his mouth about this?
    As far as I’m concerned he can fly commercial so he can see how it feels to fly on a bus with wings.

  3. Pretty shitty to attack Boeing. The cost overruns are almost certainly from emerging technology and government change orders to advance the technology of the plane. Not to mention this would keep any POTUS safe, which should be the #1 concern when flying as POTUS.

  4. It’s been well documented that Jeff Sessions and other close Trump allies connected to Alabama are shilling for Airbus.

    On the other hand, let him sink his teeth into this. Its what he said he was uniquely qualified to do …. in reality, he’s going to go around looking for a concession from every company that crosses his radar, just to claim a victory. That’s putting it kindly. When the mafia does it, its called extortion.

  5. I believe the contract is actually for 3 planes, not 2. The brings the cost per plane down quite a bit.

  6. Wouldn’t it take an act of Congress to change things enough to decrease costs significantly? Isn’t there a requirement for a 4 engine plane? Those are becoming harder to find, if they want an American built jet then the 747 is just about it. Costs to develop an entirely new 4 engine jet would be well over $4B.

  7. I’ll also add the cost figures of $200,000 per hour that are widely circulated include a whole bunch of assumptions and things that are fixed – for instance, many of the analyses include salaries of people who work on the program divided over hours flown. I hardly think the air force would lay off a few pilots if there was a different (or no) Air Force One.

  8. I have no idea what the original price was, but I can guarantee you it will now be lower after that tweet.

  9. Heck, it’s not like the sophistication of a new plane is important. It’s merely the security of the United States of America itself at stake. Let’s continue to fly the old jalopy and save a few (relative) pennies. … “It’s unclear where the $4 billion figure comes from…” … to be polite, it comes from the same place every Trump tweet comes from, out of his a–…. um, to be polite, imagination…..

  10. Let’s just hope that he is able to do the only thing he knows how to do, no matter what he is flying in. Twitter. Keep that connection strong high above those clouds! What a moron.

  11. Worth remembering that the order is for TWO planes, not one. Also, all of the modifications are time heavy and require people who have security clearance to even get near the plane. Knowledge of what the modifications are and their specs are highly classified.

    And the current pair of planes are from the 80s. They’re already at the end of their lifespans, and this is still 8 years away (assuming it’s on schedule). The Air Force is already complaining about the significant costs in trying to repair/maintain the current aircraft, and I suspect it’ll become more of a safety issue as time goes on.

  12. Jackie…seems to me when someone has a blog, they can write about whatever they want. Just like you can choose to read whatever you want.

  13. Trump wants to modify his own plane for use as AF One, then charge the gov’t for the use of it.

  14. Seems odd that Trump knows so much about the costs of a project that he hasn’t been briefed on and that contains almost all classified equipment and materials not available to the public.

  15. I bet he made that tweet after getting all giggly about the spanking new plane then having his world coming crashing down when they told him of the 2024 date.

    At this rate, he is probably going down in the record books as one of the most hyper-reactive presidents of all time and that is not a trait we want in a president unfortunately. I just hope his WH press team will implement control measures where all of his tweets will be pre-screened and approved for posting.

  16. Wow, here he is pretty much calling out the BS in our government doing what they please with our tax dollars ! Could it be he sees the idea of working on the massive debt this so Wonder Country is in. Yeah I agree 3-4 billion for a new jet ? Will be willing to bet it can be done a lot less then that figure!! It’s wonderful to see a leader finally leading ! Sorry folks prepare yourselves for a big change, oops sorry wasn’t that the others guys motto? Hahaha please don’t go burn down anything or cry at the WH front door.

  17. Love Libs’ collective heads exploding every time President Trump tweets.

    BTW, the $4 billion price tag/estimate was confirmed by NBC News through an AF official.

    Didn’t Barry do a similar thing with the proposed Marine One project a few years back?

  18. We have had Pentagon cost over runs,pay for play donations,

    Trump should look at cost over runs and under the table money.

    We all know who will be stuck with the bills,

  19. And every government contract with companies that made donations to the Clinton Crime Family Foundation should be heavily scrutinized.

  20. @ Calvin…

    …if you think tRump is gonna reduce debt, you’re likely to be very disappointed…US national debt predicted to rise from $19.5 trillion by addition of $5.3 trillion under Trump…heading for 100% of GDP (google references abound on such estimates).

    Pushing the problem onto the next generation can hardly by defined as leadership!

    What ya gonna do – print yet more money – borrow from China?!

    What do really expect Steve Mnuchin to do given his (highly dubious) record?

  21. @ Pete

    …it could be argued that tRump’s tweet is highly irresponsible with disregard to truth and commercial impact.

    …on truth….the current Boeing contract is for $170 million: there isn’t a $4 billion order with Boeing at all!

    …on impact – Boeing stocks fall as investors initially think that Boeing may lose a $4 billion contract until the truth comes out).

    You don’t have to be a “lib” to have genuine concerns about the outcomes when truth and common sense based on a sound analytical process get completely jettisoned.

  22. Sorry platy you’re just wrong about the cost. It has been confirmed. Do your homework.

    Also interesting that you are so aghast at the “projected” (?) Trump deficit when the guy hasn’t even taken office, yet no comment on the actual deficit that BHO rang up.


  23. @Pete

    You better tell the Republican Freedom Caucus about your idea that tRump’s debt won’t balloon.

    …meanwhile, Michael Flynn Jr is GONE!

    …something about circulating conspiracy tweets, apparently….sound familiar?

  24. One of the conditions in the VC-25 replacement program is that the aircraft are assembled within the US. That leaves contemplating the A380 an academic exercise at best.

  25. Just another way for him to fleece the taxpayer, like he is with renting out Trump tower to the secret service while the paid for transition space sits empty.

    Now he’ll get to charge the taxpayer for use of a Trump airplane. This guy’s whole life has been about grifting. It’s the only thing he’s good at.

    He’s a con man…nothing more.

  26. Hypocrisy, thy name is platy.

    And that was a real blow to President Trump’s transition team – – losing low-level admin grunt Flynn, Jr. Good to see President Trump taking decisive action – already running a tight ship and well on his way to MAGA.

  27. @Pete

    Calling me names doesn’t win your argument. In any case, since I am neither Democrat nor Republican, nor voted for any presidential candidate (I don’t vote in the USA), I can’t be a hypocrite.

    Peddling mistruths (like tRump and both Flynn Jnr and Snr), which suck in the gullible and disaffected isn’t going to make anyone or any country magically great again.

    Sacking losers from your team is hardly decisive action – rather reveals what bad choices you made in the first place.

  28. Sorry, platy, but there’s a new sheriff in town. And he is running this thing like a business. Drain the Swamp (maybe you’ve heard of it?)!

    And the Boeing CEO is already backing down, saving me and other hard-working Americans some of our tax dollars. Per WaPo, anyways, if you want to take a look for yourself.

  29. @Pete

    It seems that no actual facts or cogent logic can sway your irrational belief system.

    Not attending US civics classes has absolutely no bearing on being able to call out tRump when he makes specious claims, which are so easily revealed to be untruthful.

    You’ve been sucked in…apparently totally…and you’re in denial..apparently completely.

    If you are genuinely concerned about saving taxpayers dollar presumably you are glad that Obama showed his displeasure on the Marine One program cost overrun – spending on that was reined in from around $13 billion to a little over $1 billion. Now that’s a significant relative saving.

    Even if you accept the $4 billion figure or Air Force One being touted by tRump, how much do you really think tRump’s errant tweet / potential intervention is gonna save the taxpayer? That figure is a budgetary estimate (not an “order” with Boeing at all) over a period of 5 years. I assume you accept the country does need the aircraft for its president?

    Do the maths – annual federal budget is about $4 trillion – so the Air Force One budget projection is a five thousandth (1 / 5000) of that. If the program savings are, say ten percent, such savings would represent a fifty thousandth (1 / 50,000) of the annual federal budget…hardly the big picture, wouldn’t you say? Is that what you expect – a president playing with grains of sand and dithering around with social media stunts rather than tackling the real issues?

    Ironically, and to put such issues into context, such savings dwarf the tax-payer funded breaks given to Boeing (because the US props up its defence / aviation industry – see the WTO ruling on $5.7 billion of “illegal” subsidies). Let’s see how tRump handles those issues!

    If tRump is serious about controlling spending, he’ll need to address issues at the $10s to $100s billions level – not the odd few $100 million here and there on a “look at me” tweet basis!

  30. Trump leads by example. You have to start somewhere. Making America Great Again!

    Oh, and a lesson in yellow journalism might also be instructive for you.

  31. Thanks @Pete…

    …I’m very well versed in all things journalistic (given my father was head of news and current affairs for a network)…

    …tRump will have to master the detail rather than shooting from the hip and learn which battles to fight if he wants to progress effectively – failure to do so will just undermine his credibility yet further…

    …having someone with business background in government is certainly a good idea and holds the promise for refreshing approach – however, our local experiment here in Australia has ended in tears: our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, was very popular initially having come from a finance / corporate background and espousing a middle ground appealing to folk from both sides of the political divide, but unfortunately he has proved to be politically inept and failed to enact any progressive economic or social policy: his popularity has tanked in a matter of months and the country has lapsed into political stasis.

    …hopefully you guys will fare better…in the meantime, we’re watching from Oz with interest and having more than a few laughs…good luck and safe travels!

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