“Air Force One, I just want to call it a very unique moment, a very unique negotiation. A very unique set of risks that Boeing probably should not have taken,” said CEO David Calhoun. “But we are where we are.”
Boeing signed the deal in 2018 after Trump publicly criticized the program’s costs and wrote “Cancel order!” and amid Trump’s harsh rhetoric about China that risked consequences for Boeing and other U.S. exporters.
Earlier this month, the Air Force attributed the delay to a “combination of factors including influences from the Covid-19 pandemic, transition to interior suppliers, crew constraints, wiring design timelines and test execution rates.” Boeing declined to comment on the delay at the time.
Calhoun said the coronavirus pandemic complicated the work because only a limited number of workers have the high-level safety approvals needed to work on the project.
“When a Covid line goes down or a group of workers step out, we do not have a whole bunch of tidy people to step into their shoes,” he said.
“For the VC-25B, where the distances are ultra-high, it’s really difficult,” he continued, using the military model number to describe the jets.
Other factors complicated the Trump-Boeing relationship. The company faced business pressure from his sharp criticism of China. After a couple of fatal crashes, the president personally announced the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX jet – a case typically handled by the Federal Aviation Administration. And his acting defense secretary, who eventually withdrew from considering the permanent job after allegations of domestic violence surfaced, was a former Boeing director.