ORLANDO, Fla. – The Air Force has temporarily halted its acceptance of the KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueler due to the discovery of foreign object debris – trash, tools and the like – or FOD, around aircraft on the production line, the service’s acquisition chief said Feb. 28.
“Planes right now are grounded,” Will Roper, Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters Thursday at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium here. “We have found objects as we have started to move the acceptance line that shouldn’t be there. That is a failure in process and focus on safety.”
The Air Force is working with the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) and KC-46 contractor Boeing [BA] on solutions, and DCMA has identified 13 remedies that Boeing will have to put in place to better enforce standards and practices, Roper said.
The FOD issue and subsequent grounding of aircraft were first reported Thursday by The Seattle Times.
After years of delays, the service accepted the first KC-46 in January, and the initial aircraft was delivered to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas Jan. 25 (Defense Daily, Jan. 25). Six aircraft have been delivered to date – four to McConnell and two to Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. A source close to the program noted that flights have not been grounded at Altus AFB, and that only the aircraft at Boeing’s Military Delivery Center outside Seattle have been impacted.
Roper said that two aircraft are currently in the queue for acceptance, and have been inspected by both the Air Force and DCMA, but a decision has not been reached yet as to when acceptances will resume.
“If we’re not confident in these two airplanes and the thoroughness with which they have been inspected, then we’ll keep them on the ground,” he said.
After speaking with DCMA and Boeing officials, Roper confirmed Friday morning that acceptances would likely be halted “for some time” and that he would be visiting the company’s facility in Washington over the next couple of weeks to further investigate the issues. Air Mobility Command Commander Gen. Maryanne Miller is likely to join him, he added.
The Air Force has received some data about the FOD from DCMA, but the extent of the issue into Boeing’s 767 and KC-46 production lines is still to be determined, Roper said.
He emphasized that the FOD issue was “really not about the KC-46 or any platform at all, it’s about the process used to make” the aircraft.
Boeing confirmed in a Thursday statement that KC-46 flights were “temporarily paused” at the delivery center, this past week, “pending agreement between DCMA and Boeing on a plan to resolve a foreign object debris issue.”
“Safety and quality are the highest priority at Boeing. We are working together with the USAF/DCMA and expect to resume flight operations to support training flights today. There is no change to the current tanker delivery plan,” the company said.
UPDATE: This story was updated March 1 with additional comments and details from Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper.