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CEO: Boeing should have rejected Trump’s Air Force One deal

President Donald J. Trump disembarks Air Force One on his arrival Saturday, June 20, 2020, to Tulsa International Airport in Tulsa, Okla. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Boeing should have rejected then-President Donald Trump’s proposed terms to build two new Air Force One aircraft, the company’s CEO said Wednesday.

Dave Calhoun spoke Wednesday on the company’s quarterly earnings call, just hours after Boeing disclosed that it has lost $660 million transforming two 747 airliners into flying White Houses.

“Air Force One I’m just going to call a very unique moment, a very unique negotiation, a very unique set of risks that Boeing probably shouldn’t have taken,” Calhoun said. “But we are where we are, and we’re going to deliver great airplanes.”

Then-President Trump, an aviation enthusiast, took a keen interest in the new presidential jets, involving himself in everything from contract negotiations to the plane’s color scheme. As part of the deal, Boeing signed a fixed-price contract that required the company, not taxpayers, to pay for any cost overruns during the complicated conversion of the two airliners.

Then-Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who was dismissed in December 2019, personally negotiated the Air Force One terms with Trump at the White House and the former president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

In February 2018, the Air Force signed a nearly $4 billion deal with Boeing to convert two 747-8 airliners into a VIP configuration with conference rooms, sleeping quarters, communications gear, and amenities that allow the president to work as if he were at the White House. Along with other costs related to building the planes—for instance,  a new hangar complex at Joint Base Andrews just outside of Washington—the Air Force One program is expected to cost taxpayers $5.3 billion.

When the deal was finalized, the White House claimed Trump’s negotiations saved taxpayers $1.4 billion. Boeing’s struggles to build the new planes might in fact save taxpayers more than that when the planes are finally delivered.

Company officials say their problems include a dispute with a subcontractor and the kind of coronavirus-related supply-chain and workforce issues being experienced across the defense and aerospace sector. Boeing blamed the most recent $660 million loss on “higher supplier costs, higher costs to finalize technical requirements and schedule delays.”

The Air Force’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal said the new planes might not be ready to fly a president until at least 2026.

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