WASHINGTON — Boeing will reduce the cost of the Air Force One replacement program by adhering to scaled-down requirements and using commercial practices, Boeing head Dennis Muilenburg said after a Tuesday meeting with President-elect Donald Trump.
The discussion, which ended around noon at Trump Tower in New York, was the second session between the two businessmen.
Muilenburg told the press that he and Trump made "some great progress on simplifying the requirements for Air Force One" and that costs could be further lowered by using commercial practices to streamline the aircraft certification process, according to a pool report.
"I think we're making great progress. ... Together we are working through streamlining the practices, simplifying the requirements, applying commercial best practices. That's going to lead to substantial cost reduction," Muilenburg said.
Boeing’s fighter programs also came up during the discussion, he said. Although Muilenburg did not elaborate, that likely refers to the Super Hornet, which Trump is eyeing as potential competition for the F-35. The president-elect has not discussed whether he plans to truncate the Lockheed F-35 joint strike fighter program, but in December he expressed interest in an upgraded version of the Super Hornet.
Trump first set his sights on the Air Force One program on Dec. 6, when he fired off a tweet stating that the $4 billion program was "out of control" and should be canceled. Later that month, he met with Muilenburg at the president-elect’s Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida, and the Boeing CEO promised that work on the program would not exceed $4 billion.
"We’re going to get it done for less than that, and we’re committed to working together to make sure that happens. And I was able to give the president-elect my personal commitment on behalf of The Boeing Company," Muilenburg said then. "This is a business that’s important to us. We work on Air Force One because it’s important to our country and we’re going to make sure that he gets the best capability and that it’s done affordably.
"That’s what we’re going to work on together. We have an active 747 production line and we’re eager to get started on the program. We haven’t actually started the build of the airplane yet, but once we finalize the requirements and make sure that it’s affordable we’ll launch on building the aircraft. We’ve got a hot production line and we’re ready to go."
The Air Force plans on buying two new Air Force One aircraft and in 2015 selected Boeing to build a militarized version of its 747-8 aircraft. Unlike the commercial jets that roll of Boeing’s production line, a presidential transport aircraft would incorporate numerous upgrades, including secure communications equipment and hardening against nuclear attacks and electromagnetic blasts.
While the service itself has not disclosed the total cost for the program, Trump’s numbers appear to be close to reality. The Air Force has budgeted $2.7 billion through fiscal 2021 for research, development, test and evaluation, and experts have estimated the procurement of two planes will cost another $1 billion.
Outgoing Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has said that the service, which procures Air Force One on behalf of the administration, could do it cheaper if requirements are downsized. But service officials have argued that growing obsolescence and diminishing sources for current Air Force One replacement parts have significantly limited availability, and that procurement should happen sooner rather than later.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.