KC-46 Deliveries to Resume Within Weeks

MSgt. Chris Hughes, 22nd Maintenance Squadron hydraulics craftsman, climbs onto a B4 stand to begin an acceptance inspection on a KC-46A Pegasus boom on Feb. 14, 2019, at McConnell AFB, Kan. Air Force photo by A1C Alan Ricker.

The Air Force will begin receiving KC-46s again within weeks, following a second round of inspections after more foreign object debris was discovered in the aircraft. However, the service now needs to send the aircraft it has already received back to Boeing for more checks.

Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, told reporters at the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium in Colorado on Tuesday the Air Force is again satisfied with Boeing’s corrective actions. The service will accept more aircraft in the near future after sealed areas like fuel tanks are deemed compliant, and once it ensures the company is obeying its corrective action plan.

There will definitely be two more aircraft delivered by the end of the month, Roper said. Both will likely leave Boeing’s Everett, Wash., facility next Friday, Roper said.

“I’m very satisfied that they’ve treated this seriously,” he added. “The inspections are thorough. It involves opening up areas that were sealed, it involves draining fuel tanks and climbing in and inspecting, so these are not insignificant inspections, but I’m satisfied with the plan.”

The Air Force last week said it had stopped accepting the new tankers for the second time because of FOD inside the jets. After the first pause, Boeing planned in-depth inspections as part of an improvement plan to resume deliveries. During that process, more FOD was found, again stopping deliveries.

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the service’s top uniformed acquisition officer, did not provide lawmakers with a specific date for the deliveries during a Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, but he noted there are ongoing discussions to set the future schedule.

“We have asked for corrective action plans that go through what steps are going to be taken to reduce that, and then were going to measure the success against that over time so that we determine where we’re at. … We are seeing progress, but we’re not ready to start accepting aircraft yet,” Bunch said.

Both Roper and Bunch said Boeing has been cooperative and forthcoming in the process, promising to increase their workload and cover the costs of the inspection. “They readily admit they need to do this,” Bunch said.

“I’m very pleased with Boeing’s level of senior leader engagement and management,” Roper said. “To be frank, they’re embarrassed by this issue, but the only way they can implement their changes is if we get the line flowing again.”

The Air Force isn’t ready to say Boeing is in the clear, however. It will take months of FOD-free deliveries for the Air Force to say the “quality-assurance culture” of Boeing’s Everett facility is back.

Because of the in-depth inspections required, the aircraft that have already been delivered need to return to Boeing facilities so inspectors can look into closed compartments. The Air Force is determining a schedule that will not interfere with operations and maintenance training, if possible, such as swapping out a new aircraft for one that has already been delivered to McConnell AFB, Kan., or Altus AFB, Okla.

Seven KC-46s have been delivered to date.