Debris Again Causes Air Force to Pause KC-46 Acceptance

A KC-46 Pegasus taxis on the 97th Air Mobility Wing flightline, on March 11, 2019, at Altus AFB, Okla. Air Force photo by TSgt. Kenneth Norman.

The Air Force again stopped accepting next-generation KC-46A tankers from Boeing after more debris was found hidden in closed compartments, the service said Tuesday.

Foreign object debris turned up last month, causing the Air Force to once again pause acceptance March 23—just two weeks after the service had resumed acceptance of the aircraft.

“This week our inspectors identified additional foreign object debris and areas where Boeing did not meet quality standards,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Air Force Magazine. “The issues are unrelated to design or engineering specifications. Air Force leadership is meeting with Boeing to approve additional corrective action plans before aircraft acceptance can resume.” She did not answer how many aircraft had debris, but noted that more debris was found even after the pause.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday the service is working with Boeing to look at all closed compartments to ensure the production line is running properly. Halting acceptance isn’t expected to have any “macro” impact on deliveries, like changing how many aircraft the Air Force will bring in this year, Wilson told Air Force Magazine after the hearing. The service has seven new tankers in its inventory.

The Air Force initially stopped accepting aircraft from Feb. 28 to March 11 after finding trash and tools in several aircraft. Officials enacted a 13-part corrective action plan to keep FOD off of the production line.

New instances of debris are being found as a result of spot inspections instituted under that plan, Boeing spokesman Chick Ramey said.

“The USAF is requiring the inspections be expanded to all aircraft before further deliveries are allowed,” Ramey said. “We’ll continue to work with them on upcoming delivery dates.”

Boeing is doubling down on its aircraft safety and quality inspections and says resolving this issue is a top priority.

“We are currently conducting additional company and customer inspections of the jets and have implemented preventative action plans,” Ramey said. “We have also incorporated additional training, more rigorous clean-as-you-go practices, and FOD awareness days across the company to stress the importance and urgency of this issue.”