The comments, following the deadly crash on Sunday of an Ethiopian Airlines jetliner, are the latest example of Trump’s lifelong fascination with — and self-professed mastery of — all things air travel.
They also give a hint about where Trump might stand as the U.S. government faces pressure to ground the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, which has been involved in two similar crashes in five months. France, Great Britain, China, Singapore and other countries have already suspended operations of the late-model plane, which uses some of the new technology that Trump seems to dislike.
Trump, who started an airline company that failed and outfitted his personal plane with gold seat belts, has taken a particular interest in the world of aircraft since his election in 2016.
Shortly before taking office, Trump threatened to cancel a contract with Boeing for a new Air Force One, saying the costs were too high. Trump, who reached a $3.9 billion deal with Boeing last year, claimed that he was able to negotiate better than the Defense Department officials who had approved the original contract.
He also considered appointing his personal pilot to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, and he told a group of airline executives in 2017 that the federal government’s air-traffic-control system was “terrible” and “out of whack.”
“I can tell you that a lot of the new equipment that already is obsolete the day they order it,” Trump said less than a month after taking office. “And that’s according to people that know, including my pilot. I have a pilot who’s a real expert.”
When flying on Air Force One, Trump often peers into the cockpit when a plane is about to land, and he has publicly opined on the respective size and beauty of various runways. One of his main selling points for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that has never gotten off the ground was the need to upgrade U.S. airports, which he has likened to those in “Third World” countries.
Trump has routinely held political rallies in airport hangars, whether with a Trump Organization jet or Air Force One serving as a backdrop, and regularly invites executives from Boeing and Lockheed Martin to the White House for meetings and photo ops.
Last year, Trump marveled at an F-35 fighter jet that was parked on the South Lawn of the White House during a “Made in America” manufacturing event. He incorrectly suggested that the jet’s stealth capability amounted to invisibility.
“We’re ordering a lot of planes, in particular the F-35 fighter jet, which is like almost like an invisible fighter,” Trump said, standing next to the jet and Lockheed Martin President and CEO Marillyn Hewson. “It wins every time because the enemy cannot see it. Even if it’s right next to them, it can’t see it.”
Trump is taking his dubious expert-in-chief approach to the complex arena of airplane crashes — and offering his opinion even before investigators have determined the cause of the latest accident.
Boeing has said it is too early to say what happened during the crash, which killed 157 people, including eight Americans. Trump’s tweets appearing to link the crash to technological advancement of airplanes came before he made any public statements expressing sympathy to the victims. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders gave condolences during a press briefing on Monday.
Trump’s claims about airplanes becoming unsafe because of complexity are at odds with facts showing that air travel has grown consistently safer over the past several decades, as planes have become more advanced. While Sunday’s crash came just five months after a similar Boeing jet crashed off the coast of Indonesia, fewer than 1 out of every 2 million flights involves a fatal accident, according to the Aviation Safety Network. The rate has fallen by more than 80 percent since 1977.
Trump himself has even sought to take credit for the track record, tweeting last year that 2017 was “the best and safest year on record.”
The president has claimed expertise in several other areas where he has no formal training. Trump, who uses an iPhone but does not send emails or use a computer, tends to favor old systems over newer technology.
In a November phone call with service members, Trump expressed doubts about the military’s new system for launching aircraft at sea, saying he preferred old-fashioned “steam” propulsion — and again invoking the physicist who developed the theory of relativity.
“Steam is very reliable, and the electromagnetic — I mean, unfortunately, you have to be Albert Einstein to really work it properly,” Trump said in a phone call with Capt. Pat Hannifin. The U.S. Navy prefers the electromagnetic aircraft launch system, Hannifin told Trump.
The president has said the technology sought by professionals at the southern border — including drones and sensors — amounts to only “bells and whistles” if there is no physical wall.
“Throughout the ages some things NEVER get better and NEVER change. You have Walls and you have Wheels,” Trump tweeted in December. “Please explain to the Democrats that there can NEVER be a replacement for a good old fashioned WALL!”
But the president’s penchant for old-fashioned technology has at times put him at odds with his role as a booster for American companies.
In Vietnam last month, Trump joined Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong to sign a deal for the sale of 110 airplanes.
“I really appreciate the orders that you made today of Boeing and General Electric and the various other companies that will be selling you aircraft,” Trump said.
He did not mention any concerns about the technology in the planes — most of which were Boeing 737 Max models.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the country where a Boeing jet crashed last year. It was Indonesia, not India.