Trump asked 'a lot of questions' on Air Force One, general says
By TONY CAPACCIO | Bloomberg | Published: April 5, 2017
Donald Trump asked "a lot of questions" that showed his general knowledge about aviation issues when he grilled the Air Force's mobility chief in December about what he considered an overpriced new Air Force One, the four-star general said.
"He's an aviation enthusiast," Gen. Carlton Everhart said in an interview about his meeting with Trump, who was president-elect at the time. Trump traveled in his own Boeing 757 when he ran for president, and he once operated an airline providing shuttle service on the East Coast.
Trump met with military leaders including Everhart at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida after tweeting earlier that month: "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!"
But Trump didn't realize the $4 billion wasn't just the cost for two modified 747-8 passenger planes built by Boeing, Everhart recounted in the interview Tuesday at Bloomberg's New York headquarters. It also includes the modifications needed to outfit it with advanced security and communications systems and funds to pay for decades of operations and support.
"I said, 'Sir -- because it's amortized over a 30-year program,'" Everhart recalled. "'It's just not two airplanes'" to replace two aging aircraft, but "'it's everything that comes with those airplanes over a 30-year period."'
Still, Everhart said Trump asked good questions, such as "Why can't it be a two-engine versus a four-engine" aircraft?
Everhart said he told Trump a four-engine aircraft was needed because "I've got to support your role as commander-in-chief." He said he told the president-elect that "this is an alternate flying White House" that has to support continuity of government operations "no matter what happens," including during an attack on the U.S.
The general said the requirements for the presidential aircraft are set by the White House Military Office. A lot of time and money have been spent reviewing those, Everhart said.
Trump also asked, "Why can't I go to another vendor?" While the Air Force found Boeing was the only U.S. aircraft manufacturer able to provide the planes, Everhart said Trump was "thinking business in his head" because "he wanted to come from a position of negotiations to try and get the price down."
Trump has a history as a shrewd buyer of second-hand aircraft that he retrofits to his gold-plated standards. In fact, the Boeing 757 that ferried him on the campaign trail was a hand-me-down from billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The hourly shuttle service, which he purchased from the failing Eastern Airlines in 1988, was less successful, lasting just four years.
After meeting Everhart, Trump decided to bring in Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg and "'talk to him about this pricing,'" the general recalled.
In February, Trump claimed he negotiated $1 billion in savings, an assertion that the service said at the time it couldn't verify. "They were close to signing a $4.2 billion deal to have a new Air Force One," Trump said at a rally on in Florida that month. "Can you believe this?"
Instead, Trump said, "we got that price down by over $1 billion, and I probably haven't spoken, to be honest with you, for more than an hour on the project. I got the generals in, who are fantastic. I got Boeing in. But I told Boeing it's not good enough. We're not going to do it. The price is still too high."
The Government Accountability Office estimated in a report last week that the program will cost $3 billion, based on the Air Force's latest estimates independent of Trump's efforts.
The Air Force and Boeing are still negotiating the price of the two basic airframes, Everhart said.
Bloomberg's Julie Johnsson contributed.