The Seattle Times reported last week that the Air Force had discovered unwanted tools, bits of debris, and other garbage in various locations of KC-46A tankers, raising safety concerns. According to the Times, Air Force pilots training at Boeing refused to fly the aircraft. “This is a big deal," a Boeing memo was quoted as saying.
“We have USAF pilots here for flight training and they will not fly due to the FOD (foreign object debris) issues and the current confidence they have in our product that has been discovered throughout the aircraft,” factory management wrote in a February 21 memo to employees on the 767 assembly line.
The presence of tools and debris in aircraft is a serious safety hazard as the objects can roll around in-flight, shorting out electrical equipment and damaging other equipment. Tools were found in two aircraft delivered to the USAF and in eight more still at Boeing. The Seattle newspaper says the problem is both the fault of mechanics working on the plane and quality control inspectors that monitor work and ensure nothing unauthorized is left inside an aircraft section before it is closed up. The newspaper noted that Boeing is preparing to cut up to 1,000 quality control inspector positions.
Training flights resumed Thursday morning after approximately a week’s downtime, during which Boeing worked with the Air Force on resolving production problems. Boeing spokesman Chick Ramey acknowledged the issue but characterized it as only “a temporary pause” in flight operations. On Friday Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, told Breaking Defense that the Air Force is “still not accepting KC-46s and I believe this will continue for some time.”
The internal company memo said the MDC “grounded our 767 tankers due to FOD and tool control.” Boeing was supposed to deliver 18 KC-46 tankers by 2017. The first KC-46A Pegasus tankers were delivered to the Air Force only last month, after a two-year delay and $3 billion in cost overruns. The Air Force has received only six tankers so far, while Boeing has roughly 45 aircraft still in what the Times described as the “final stages of completion.”