Boeing fix-it exec has big job to get tanker and supply chain on track

EVERETT — Boeing is adding engineers, support staff and even an executive with a ‘fix-it’ reputation to its troubled KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tanker program to keep it moving along. The company is also working more closely with contractors to make sure parts are delivered on time and according to spec.

The development program suffered another setback last week when a corrosive chemical was improperly used in the tanker’s advanced fuel system during ground vibration testing, according to people familiar with the program.

The damage could further delay the flight test schedule.

The company is “currently determining a plan of action,” said Chick Ramey, a Boeing spokesman. “We are currently assessing the potential impact of this issue on scheduled program activities.”

The airplane is the first KC-46 tanker and the program’s second flight test plane. It had been slated to take its first flight in September.

A spokesman for the U.S. Air Force, which has ordered 179 tankers, said it won’t know if first flight has been delayed until after Boeing finishes evaluating the extent of the damage.

The program’s first test plane, an interim 767-2C model, resumed test flights in late July.

In mid-July, Boeing announced another $835 million in cost overruns on top of $425 million last year. That puts the total at $1.26 billion that Boeing has had to cover.

Earlier problems on the program included late deliveries from suppliers and problems with the tanker’s wiring, which had to be removed, re-designed and re-installed in all four test airplanes.

During fuel system tests, which started in May, the company found “a number of fuel system parts and components that did not meet specifications and needed to be redesigned,” Ramey said. The components included “certain pumps, valves, couplers and other parts.”

Bad welds in fuel tubes failed when the system was pressurized, according to people familiar with the program.

He said those issues have not affected the test flight schedule and “its impact on the cost of the program has been insignificant.”

The welded parts did not need to be redesigned, Ramey said. It “was a manufacturing quality standards issue that is being remedied.”

The welds were on supplier-provided parts, according to people familiar with the program.

The corrosive chemical was introduced to the fuel system by people who thought it was a petroleum-based fuel substitute. It was mislabeled by a vendor, according to sources.

Boeing is addressing supply chain oversight, Ramey said. “With regard to Boeing oversight, we continue to make significant progress with suppliers and are working with them closely to improve processes and ensure they meet our need dates,” he said. “Where it makes sense, we’ve sent Boeing people on site to help.”

Federal certification of the fuel system “is also proving to require additional engineering and support resources due to the overall complexity of the system,” he said.

The KC-46’s fuel system is a substantial upgrade from that on earlier 767-based tankers built for Japan and Italy. The KC-46 can carry 212,299 pounds of fuel. Its boom can transfer 1,200 gallons per minute to another aircraft. And it has four more internal fuel tanks.

Talking to investment analysts and reporters July 22, Boeing CEO and President Dennis Muilenburg said the tanker is “a good reminder to us” of the need to focus on executing development programs on time and budget.

Boeing is hustling to meet its Air Force contract deadline to deliver the first 18 combat-ready tankers by August 2017.

Earlier this week, Muilenburg tapped Scott Fancher, a vice president and head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ development programs, to get the tanker back on track.

The role is “an interim assignment,” according to an internal notice from top Boeing managers.

In 2008, Fancher took over the 787 program, which was already several years behind schedule. He is widely credited with getting the program back on track.

Bob Feldmann, who helps oversee all commercial airplane development programs, was also assigned an interim role as Fancher’s deputy on the tanker.

The tanker program manager, Tim Peters, is not being replaced, but will work with Fancher and Feldmann, the notice said.

The moves seem to show Muilenburg is taking quick action to address problems, said Scott Hamilton, an Issaquah-based aerospace analyst and owner of Leeham Co.

The program was already squeezed for time, and Boeing had to speed up the test flight program due to delays from earlier problems.

“The odds are against” Boeing meeting its deadline, he said.

It would not be surprising if Boeing didn’t have any tankers ready two years from now, he said.

“Developing a new airplane or a derivative is not an easy task,” he said.

The world’s biggest airplane makers have rarely delivered on time in recent years. Boeing’s 787 was three years late, and its 747-8 was two years behind. Airbus’ A380 was two years late, its A350 was 18 months late, and its A400 military transport was several years late as well. Smaller plane makers Bombardier and Embraer have seen similar delays in their development programs.

Given the industry’s track record, “why should (the tanker) be any different?” Hamilton said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454;; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
US board says Boeing Max likely hit a bird before 2019 crash

U.S. accident investigators disagree with Ethiopian authorities over the cause of a 2019 Boeing 737 Max crash.

Paddywack co-owner Shane Somerville with the 24-hour pet food pantry built by a local Girl Scout troop outside of her store on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
An out-paw-ring of support: Mill Creek pantry feeds pets, day or night

With help from local Girl Scouts, the Mill Creek pet food store Paddywack is meeting the need for pet supplies in a pinch.

Kelly Cameron is the woodworker behind Clinton-based business Turnco Wood Goods. (David Welton)
Whidbey woodworkers turn local lumber into art

In the “Slab Room” at Madrona Supply Co., customers can find hunks of wood native to the south end of Whidbey Island.

Siblings Barbara Reed and Eric Minnig, who, co-own their parent’s old business Ken’s Camera along with their brother Bryan, stand outside the Evergreen Way location Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Everett, Washington. After five decades in business, Ken’s will be closing its last two locations for good at the end of the year. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Print it or lose it: Ken’s Camera closes after decades caught on film

The local legend, processing film photos since 1971, will close its locations in Mount Vernon and Everett at the end of 2022.

Store owner Jay Behar, 50, left, and store manager Dan Boston, 60, right, work to help unload a truck of recliners at Behar's Furniture on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Behar's Furniture on Broadway in Everett is closing up shop after 60 years in business. The family-owned furniture store opened in 1963, when mid-century model styles were all the rage. Second-generation owner, Jay Behar says it's time to move on. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Behar’s Furniture in Everett closing after 60 years

“It’s time to move on.” The small family-owned store opened in 1963 and grew to cover an entire city block.

Katy Woods, a Licensed Coach, Branch Manager, and experienced Banker at Coastal Community Bank.
Coastal Community Bank Offers Classes for Businesses

To support local business owners and their teams, Coastal offers complimentary Money… Continue reading

Innovative Salon Products online fulfillment employees, from left, Stephanie Wallem, Bethany Fulcher, Isela Ramirez and Gretchen House, work to get orders put together on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, at the company’s facility in Monroe, Washington. The company began including pay, benefits and perks to its job listings over a year ago, well ahead of the new statewide mandate to include a pay range on job postings at companies with over 15 employees. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New state law requires employers to give pay range in job postings

Washington’s new pay transparency law aims to narrow wage gaps based on race or gender — though some companies may seek loopholes.

Nelson Petroleum on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Egregious:’ Everett fuel company repeatedly broke water standards

Nelson Petroleum faces a lawsuit from an Everett Mall Way strip mall over discharges into a nearby wetland.

Mike Lane and son Dave Lane, right, in front of their family store Everett Vacuum with their popular sign and saying, “everything we sell sucks” on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Suck it up — and shop it up — at Everett Vacuum

After 80 years on Broadway, the family-run store with the “Everything we sell sucks” sign moved to Hewitt Avenue.

Customers leave J. Matheson Gifts Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s longtime J. Matheson gift store finds new life in Seattle

Miranda Matheson had her mother’s blessing when she opened a new J. Matheson Urban Gifts & Kitchens in Green Lake.

Carla Fisher and Lana Lasley take a photo together with Tommy Chong during 210 Cannabis Co’s grand opening Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, in Arlington, Washington. Fisher and Lasley waited in line solely to get a photo with Chong. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stillaguamish Tribe opens retail cannabis shop

More than 1,500 attended a grand opening on Dec. 10. The venture comes amid a boom in tribal cannabis stores.

Franco Montano works on putting together a wreath at his workshop on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022 in Monroe, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Monroe man runs taco truck by day, makes 100 wreaths by night

Franco Montano, a former factory worker, started making the holiday wreaths in 2008. He has expanded into a thriving family business.