USAF suspends KC-46A tanker deliveries again
‘Our inspectors identified additional foreign object debris and areas where Boeing did not meet quality standards,’ USAF spokesperson Capt Hope Cronin said in a statement on 2 April. ‘Air force leadership is meeting with Boeing to approve additional corrective action plans before aircraft acceptance can resume.’
USAF secretary Heather Wilson, who testified on 2 April before the House Appropriations Committee’s defence panel, attributed the FOD problems to a ‘breakdown [in] manufacturing discipline’ that the service is working with Boeing to correct.
‘If you drop a wrench, you have to find the wrench,’ Wilson told lawmakers. ‘You have to wipe down surfaces so you don’t have small pieces of aluminum that over time get in the midst of things and cause serious problems in aircraft. The most recent issue was we opened up some closed compartments, like the compartments inside wings, to see if those had been inspected and wiped down. They were better than some of the open areas but they weren’t what we would expect.'
Boeing spokesperson Chick Ramey said the company is committed to fixing the FOD problems and delivering clean tankers to the air force.
‘Although we’ve made improvements to date, we can do better,’ Ramey said. ‘We are currently conducting additional company and customer inspections of the jets and have implemented preventive action plans. 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.’
Ramey added that ‘this latest news is based on findings from spot inspections of sealed areas that were required as part of the original corrective action plan.’
The latest suspension, which the air force approved on 23 March, came less than two weeks after deliveries resumed following the first suspension. The first stoppage occurred from 1 March to 11 March.
USAF acquisition chief Will Roper said on 13 March at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington, DC, that he intends to closely monitor Boeing for at least a year to ensure it improves its adherence to anti-FOD procedures, such as ‘clean as you go’ and ‘check tools back in.’ The air force expects ‘to see many months of pristine airplanes before we’ll say, hey, the culture is back,’ Roper said.
Despite the FOD issue and the technological glitches the KC-46A has experienced in its development, USAF Chief of Staff GEN David Goldfein told the House panel that he expects the tanker will eventually be ‘a spectacular weapon system for us.’
The air force accepted its first KC-46A in January and has seven so far. It plans to buy a total of 179 to replace some of its aging tankers.
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