ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President-elect Donald Trump is lashing out again on Twitter, this time at the Boeing Company. He tweeted this morning that customized 747s meant to replace Air Force One are too expensive and the order should be canceled. He spoke to reporters later in the day in the Trump Tower lobby.
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DONALD TRUMP: The plane is totally out of control. It's going to be over $4 billion. It's for Air Force One program. And I think it's ridiculous. I think Boeing is doing a little bit of a number. We want Boeing to make a lot of money but not that much money.
SHAPIRO: Joining us now is NPR's David Schaper in our Chicago bureau. And David, explain why the government is ordering these new airplanes from Boeing and whether they will really cost $4 billion.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Well, first of all, these are two planes in the Air Force One program. There are always two of the jumbo jets that are identical so that the president has access to one while the other is undergoing maintenance. The last order was under President Reagan. And the planes were delivered under the term of the first President Bush in the early '90s.
They're designed to last about 30 years. So it is about time for the Air Force to order a new Air Force One planes. The Government Accountability Office, which is the auditing arm of the federal government, estimated that this program should cost about $3.2 billion between 2010 and 2020. So it's not really clear where the president-elect's $4 billion figure comes from.
SHAPIRO: Whether it's $3.2 or $4 billion over 10 years, it does seem like a lot of money for two airplanes.
SCHAPER: It does. But Boeing calls these planes really a flying Oval Office. It's got 4,000 square feet of space, a conference room, a medical suite. There's a bedroom. And because these planes can refuel midair, they have an unlimited flying range. All that plus maintaining the aircraft once they're delivered could possibly push up the price tag to or above that $4 billion figure given by the president-elect. But again, neither he nor his staff would say where that figure came from.
SHAPIRO: What was Boeing's reaction? Is it conceivable that a European conglomerate, Airbus, Boeing's chief competitor, could be in the running to produce Air Force One?
SCHAPER: I really think that that's almost unthinkable because of politics in the U.S. Boeing has a long history of making the airplanes that fly the American president dating back to the days of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the early 1940s. But this latest controversy over the cost of the project did seem to catch the aerospace giant a little bit by surprise.
In a statement, The Boeing Company today says that, we are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft. So Boeing has not yet been awarded the rest of the money to develop and build the aircraft.
But we should note that Air Force One represents a very small portion of the business the company has with the U.S. government. It's a giant government contractor and - with defense and in aerospace and other programs. Boeing's stock price did dip about 1 percent after the president-elect's tweet. But it recovered all of what it had lost, and the stock price just pretty much closed unchanged.
SHAPIRO: Do you think the president-elect is trying to send a message to Boeing and other government contractors here?
SCHAPER: You know it's still not really clear what the intent of Mr. Trump's tweet was. But this tweet about out-of-control costs also comes from the president-elect on a day The Washington Post has a story exposing widespread waste and cost overruns at the Pentagon. Whether or not Mr. Trump was adding the new Air Force One as another example of that I can't really say. But his spokesman did allude to that in a conference call with reporters today - that this could be all about government spending. And that's what his supporters - Trump's supporters - want him to get rid of.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's David Schaper speaking with us from Chicago. Thanks, David.
SCHAPER: Thank you, Ari.
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