By Alwyn Scott and Doina Chiacu
(Reuters) – Boeing Co’s chief executive said on Tuesday that he and President-elect Donald Trump “made progress” on lowering the cost of the Air Force One presidential aircraft fleet and on a potential sale of Boeing fighter aircraft, and suggesting a deal could be struck soon.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s visit to Trump Tower on Tuesday marked another step in Trump’s efforts to use his bully pulpit to cut better deals with defense contractors. It also showed Boeing’s adroit use of the meetings to pursue its own sales and herald its importance to the U.S. manufacturing economy.
Trump has been pressuring defense companies on prices through Twitter posts and meetings. Last month he said a $4 billion contract for Air Force One was too expensive and should be canceled. Boeing has said it so far has a $170 million contract for design work on the heavily modified Boeing 747 planes and that no final figure for the fleet of planes had been established.
Trump also last month asked the Chicago-based aerospace and defense company to price a contract for Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet to compete with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter, which is famously over budget.
While not offering details, Muilenburg said the “excellent conversation” with Trump could lead to a deal “in the very near term.”
“We made some great progress on simplifying requirements for Air Force One, streamlining the process, streamlining certification by using commercial practices,” Muilenburg told reporters after the hour-long meeting. “That’s going to lead to substantial cost reductions.”
On fighter jets, he said, “we were able to talk about options for the country and capabilities that will, again, provide the best capability for our war fighters most affordably.”
Muilenburg praised Trump’s approach to negotiations.
“I think Mr. Trump is doing a great job of engaging business,” he said, noting that as the U.S.’ top exporter, Boeing supports 1.5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs and 13,000 small and mid-sized supplier companies.
“If you want manufacturing jobs, aerospace is the place to invest,” he said. “We’re proud to take on that mission and I think Mr Trump’s engagement with industry is going to help us grow manufacturing jobs in this country.”
“I appreciate the teamwork approach on this – I think it’s the right way to do business.”
Boeing’s stock was down 0.6 percent at $157.87 in afternoon trade.
(Reporting by Alwyn Scott in Seattle and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Marguerita Choy)