Boeing CEO is following Trump’s Air Force One script
President-Elect Trump’s meeting with the chief executive of Air Force One primary contractor Boeing went exactly as I predicted on December 8. The PEOTUS has set the stage for a symbolically important drama that instructs other government contractors, especially defense, that a new sheriff is in town, and cost is now a serous consideration that will be closely monitored. And for the voters, the lesson is already clear and will be dramatized vividly in the second and third acts to follow. The days of wasteful spending enriching insiders are over.
Watch this video from the Associated Press, featuring Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg leaving from his meeting with Trump at Mar a Lago, and fully endorsing Trump’s initiative to cut costs from the Air Force One project:
As I outlined almost 2 weeks ago, the project can be brought in under budget and ahead of schedule by following Trump’s established pattern of behavior in past triumphs – in particular his Wollman Rink achievement in quickly and economically completing a job that the New York City government was unable to handle competently:
Trump wants to use the basic approach he used when he saved the foundering Wollman Rink project in Central Park. Instead of the advanced technology chosen by the city’s officials (Freon circulated in expensive and fragile copper pipe – in the name of energy savings), Trump brought in much cheaper established technologies (circulating brine) that used a little more energy but were reliable. Trump also got the advice and help of the best people in the business of building ice rinks. Trump brought in the project in four months and 25% under budget, not the two years the city had planned for its next attempt to finish the rink six years after it had been closed for renovations.
The new Air Force One is incomparably more complex than an ice rink, but Trump’s approach to the cost and completion issues of advanced technologies is likely to draw on the pattern of action he displayed at Wollman.
I would assume that Trump’s people who review the contract and negotiate with Boeing are going to want to hear the arguments against using more established technologies that are off-the-shelf or cost-effective modifications of existing components and systems. There may be ways of redefining capabilities that are currently demanded. For instance, the specifications for this Air Force One reportedly demanded four engines in the name of reliability. But the new-generation high-thrust engines are so reliable that old restrictions on twin-engine flight are disappearing. Twin-engine airliners routinely fly over vast empty oceans many times a day. The era of four-engine airliners is closing, with the 747-8i and Airbus 380 both languishing as their backlogs shrink. There would be no economic advantage in substituting a Boeing 77W or 787-10 for the 747 frame, since the four-holers are available and are being discounted in order to move the metal, as they say in the industry. But there may well be other specifications that safely could be relaxed.
If the Trump administration follows this approach of using more existing systems and weighting cost and speed more heavily than seems to have been the case to date, it could set up a great long-term story: bringing in the new-generation Air Force One not just on time and on budget, but ahead of the old schedule for substantially less money. If this is the approach taken, expect Trump to highlight every step of the process, perhaps even visiting the Assembly Building to thank the workers building the plane and providing irresistible images. (snip)
This dramatic storyline of Air Force One is exactly what is needed to change the behavior of Pentagon weapons buyers. They need to weigh costs more heavily into the equation and eschew all the fun of pushing the state-of-the-art. New procedures and other changes from above are one thing, but getting buy-in from the operating staff is important. The Air Force One model could become a very valuable tool in changing the culture of weapons procurement. In addressing military culture, which values leadership by example, Trump’s use of the president’s private craft as the example of how to wring out costs is sheer genius. If this all plays out as predicted here, The Air Force One Story will be far more than a personal media stunt; it will serve as an effective tool of reform of our military.
I expect the scenario to play out exactly as I described it. Mr. Muilenburg is already playing out Act One a scripted by Donald Trump, the master of reality television.