US Air Force Scolds Boeing Over KC-46A Tanker Delays

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The U.S. Air Force is ratcheting up the pressure on Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) over delays and problems with the KC-46A tanker program. The company continues to say it will meet its next milestone, but Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson expressed the service’s doubts at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.

Wilson noted that while the delays are costing time, they are not costing the Air Force any money. The fixed-price contract with Boeing means that the company is responsible for any cost overruns, as well as compensation for delays.

According to a report at Defense News, in her remarks Wilson said:

One of our frustrations with Boeing is they’re much more focused on their commercial activity than on getting this right for the Air Force and getting these aircraft to the Air Force. And that’s the message we took to them in Seattle last week.

Boeing issued a quick response:

There is no greater priority at The Boeing Company right now than the delivery of the KC-46. Boeing has continued to demonstrate its commitment to deliver the tankers as soon as possible and believes in our partnership with the US Air Force.

Secretary Wilson does not believe that Boeing will meet its commitment to deliver the plane in the second quarter of this year, as the company has promised. She said, “Boeing has been overly optimistic in all of their schedule reports.”

The most important problem the company faces is the tendency of the rigid boom on the KC-46A to scrape the surface of the aircraft being refueled. This is a serious issue for stealth planes because it damages the coating that gives the aircraft their stealthiness.

Two less significant issues with the tanker are an electrical problem that could cause a fire when the plane is refueling and a software issue that cause a problem when the refueling boom is disconnected from the receiving aircraft.

Boeing already has incurred charges of around $2 billion on the tanker program, and more may be on the way if the Air Force is right.

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