The U.S. Air Force announced June 20 that it has reached an agreement with Boeing [BA] on a revised delivery schedule that calls for the service to start receiving its first 18 KC-46A Pegasus tankers this fall.
Under the agreement, which was months in the making, Boeing will hand over the first refueling jet in October and the remaining 17 by April 2019.
“The Air Force is looking forward to KC-46A first delivery and will continue to work with Boeing on opportunities to expedite the program,” Air Force Undersecretary Matthew Donovan said in a statement.
Boeing was originally supposed to deliver the first 18 planes by August 2017. But delays in completing flight tests and obtaining airworthiness certifications have caused several slippages in the delivery schedule.
"While the KC-46A flight test program is nearly complete, significant work remains," Donovan said.
Boeing indicated that it hopes to avoid more delays.
"The KC-46 is a top priority for The Boeing Company, and we have the best of Boeing working to ensure the U.S. Air Force gets their tankers as quickly as possible,” the company said in a statement.
Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kan.), whose congressional district includes McConnell Air Force Base, which is supposed to receive the first Pegasus and a total of 36 KC-46As, welcomed the Air Force announcement.
“The needed and overdue delivery of new KC-46 tankers is great news for our country," Estes said. "The airmen at McConnell have been working tirelessly to prepare for this delivery."
Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, said the revised schedule seems feasible because most of the 18 aircraft are already built.
The Air Force, Boeing and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have often disagreed about when deliveries would begin. For example, Boeing officials told reporters in May that they had finished 95 percent of the testing required to begin deliveries, would wrap up the remaining 5 percent in the coming months, and would deliver the first 18 aircraft by year's end (Defense Daily, May 4). But the GAO cautioned in an April report that that milestone might not be achieved until May 2019.
The Air Force awarded a KC-46A development contract to Boeing in 2011. The service plans to buy 179 KC-46As to replace some of its aging tankers.