By Danielle Prokop
WASHINGTON – President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that the U.S. is paying Boeing more than $4 billion to build a new plane that could be used as Air Force One, but the aerospace giant claimed shortly after that it is a much smaller figure.
“We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serves a unique requirement of the President of the United States,” Boeing said in a statement. “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 people.”
Trump’s tweet quoted a figure 23 times larger.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2016
In January 2016, Boeing was awarded the contract for building the next Air Force One model, which is expected to have a 30-year life expectancy.
“We are focused on ensuring this program is affordable,” Col. Amy McCain, the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program manager, said in a statement released when the contract was awarded in January. “This contract gets us started on determining how to modify a 747-8 to become the next Air Force One, and finding opportunities for cost reduction through detailed requirements choices, competition of subsystems, and in the sustainment of the aircraft after it has been fielded.”
The Air Force provided its yearly budget justification in February, while requesting fiscal year 2017 funding from Congress. The appropriation justification for Research and Development alone for Air Force One is $2.7 billion, which does not include the cost of the aircraft. The necessary tests include missiles testing, emergency landing procedures and communications networks.
Trump’s transition team said Tuesday that they arrived at the figure from both the planes and the research development costs.
“When you look at the cost of two new Air Forces Ones, plus the research and development of the overall program costs, is a pretty big number,” Communications director Jason Miller told reporters in the daily transition team briefing.
Trump’s transition team doubled down on the President-elect’s statement, but dodged questions about whether or not Trump had contacted the Pentagon before his tweet.
“The point that the President-elect was making here was that a $4-billion-dollar price tag is a very big number and taxpayers want to make sure we’re seeing absolute accountability,” Miller said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest deferred to the Pentagon Tuesday when asked about the contract with Boeing.
“I think the American people would expect that future U.S. presidents would benefit from unique and upgraded capabilities while they are traveling and representing the interests of the United States around the world,” Earnest said, noting that the current Air Force One is “nearing the end of its projected life.”
The updated Air Force One is scheduled for use until 2023.