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Analysts: Trump visit to Boeing chance to improve relationship, leverage platforms

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Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg welcomes President Donald Trump to the 787-10 rollout event in front of thousands at Boeing S.C. on Friday in North Charleston. (Photo/Kim McManus)

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg welcomed President Donald Trump to Boeing South Carolina in North Charleston on Friday with a handshake as a crowd of several thousand cheered and chanted.

“That is one beautiful airplane,” Trump said of the new 787-10 Dreamliner, which sat next to the Air Force One jet.

Boeing’s decision to invite Trump for the 787-10 rollout, and his decision to fly in to visit the aerospace campus, could signify efforts from both sides to strengthen their relationship, as well as push their respective agendas, several aerospace analysts said.

“President Trump’s visit not only marks a more friendly and warmer relationship with Boeing and its management, but it also underscores the importance the president places on creating U.S. jobs,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst with StrategicAero Research.

During a campaign stop in South Carolina last year, Trump said a new Boeing plant in China could take away from the company’s S.C. presence, and since becoming president, he called out Boeing’s Air Force One jets for being too expensive.

Uresh Sheth, aerospace analyst and author of the All Things 787 blog, said tensions have eased between the president and the aerospace giant since Trump reportedly included Muilenburg on a conference call with Lockheed Martin during discussions about the F-35 jet versus the F-18.

Analysts saw the Dreamliner rollout as the ideal platform for Trump to espouse his job creation and pro-U.S. manufacturing agenda, particularly among a mostly welcoming base of S.C. politicians and business leaders — including supporter S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, who likened Trump’s election to President Ronald Reagan’s rise.

“Trump loves the attention of the nature that this visit will provide,” said Scott Hamilton, aerospace analyst and editor of Leeham News and Comment. “There’s no real step-change here as far as American industrial innovation, so there’s no ‘technical’ related reason for him to be there.”

Unlike in other recent news conferences littered with anti-media rants, Trump mostly focused on his desire for more U.S. jobs and manufacturing, less regulation for U.S. businesses and harsher policies for U.S.-based companies that move jobs abroad.

“We’re here today to celebrate American engineering and American manufacturing. We’re also here today to celebrate jobs,” Trump said. “This plane, as you know, was built right here in the great state of South Carolina. Our goal as a nation must be to rely less on imports and more on products made here in the U.S.A.”

The 787-10 Dreamliner is produced in North Charleston, but it is the most outsourced plane the company makes, Boeing has said. The jet's parts come from suppliers around the world, including from Asia and Europe.

Trump also applauded the company’s North Charleston campus and South Carolina as a whole. He complimented the workers for their innovation and manufacturing capabilities, while praising the state for its support during the primaries.

“I love South Carolina. I love it. ... This was going to be a place that was tough to win and we won in a landslide. ... I want to thank the people of South Carolina,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd.

Other analysts saw the visit as a chance for Boeing to appease Trump in the hopes that he will be an advocate of pro-aerospace regulation, such as authorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

“I think it’s Boeing doing some well-placed butt-kissing, which is not a criticism of Boeing — rather, a necessary move,” Hamilton said.

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for the Teal Group Corp., said Boeing was likely motivated by two factors in bringing Trump in for the 787-10 Dreamliner unveiling.

“One is fear — that Trump will go after them the way he goes after numerous companies in all segments of the economy. The other is a desire to restore Ex-Im funding, and they see Trump as a strong hope to make this happen,” Aboulafia said. “Needless to say, there’s a lot of risk in this. A president who’s fond of big government intervention can go from friend to enemy in a flash.”

Trump has not said whether he plans to support the Ex-Im Bank, an export financing entity. The bank has been operating on limited authority for nearly two years and has been at risk of losing funding. Boeing leaders have said Ex-Im authorization is the linchpin to remaining competitive with Airbus and securing international sales.

Ahmad said the Boeing-Trump relationship is off to a positive start. He sees Trump’s visit as a show of support for the U.S. technology and manufacturing sectors, as well as for Boeing exports.

“As a businessman, he’ll look to support the company so that it can proliferate jobs,” Ahmad said. “Whether that be by getting the Ex-Im bank back into business, or by introducing new laws that free Boeing from corporate red tape and legislation — it is evident that Trump will work with Boeing in the advancement of his continued emphasis on job creation. ... Frankly, Boeing could not have asked for a better representative to amplify its own corporate desire in the way that President Trump did for them.”

Sheth said Boeing gave Trump a platform to speak — which did not include questions from reporters — in the hopes of getting into the president’s good graces when it comes time to make decisions on regulations that could affect the Boeing Co.

“Boeing is just giving him a stage to conduct another presidential campaign in a red state,” Sheth said.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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