Boeing Co.’s first aerial refueling tanker will take flight Friday. (Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg)

Boeing Co.’s first aerial refueling tanker will take flight Friday. (Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg)

Boeing’s $44 billion tanker may miss a milestone by 3 years

A ceremony is planned Thursday in Everett to mark the delivery of the first KC-46A to the Air Force.

By Tony Capaccio / Bloomberg News

The Boeing Co.’s first aerial-refueling tanker, part of a $44 billion program, is to be celebrated in Everett on Thursday and fly Friday to an Air Force base in Kansas for another celebration. But the handoff by Boeing to the Air Force is tempered by what may become a delay of at least three years in meeting an important milestone.

In Everett, company officials and the Air Force secretary will be on hand as Boeing shows off the first completed KC-46A on Thursday at Paine Field. A ceremony is planned on Friday for the arrival of the tanker at McConnell Air Force Base, with scores of Air Force personnel on hand, along with Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and the state’s two U.S. senators, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. The Air Force will accept the first delivery despite unresolved issues, including fixing a troubled camera system used in refueling operations.

Of more significance than the first aircraft, the contractor was originally required to deliver 18 planes, two spare engines and nine sets of wing-mounted refueling pods by August 2017. That’s already slipped past a revised estimate of October 2018. Now, the Defense Contract Management Agency is predicting it won’t happen until the third quarter of 2020.

The contract agency is citing the prospect of added delay until a Boeing subcontractor based in the United Kingdom, Cobham, can deliver the wing-mounted pods, which allow two aircraft to be refueled at once.

While Cobham is continuing qualification testing needed for the pods to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, their production “is not an issue at this time,” Mark Woodbury, a spokesman for the defense contract agency, said in an email.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an email that the service agrees that the pace of pod deliveries is likely to determine whether the KC-46 can meet its milestone.

Delivery of certified pods was originally scheduled for August 2017 but is now projected for June 2020, Capt. Hope Cronin, another Air Force spokeswoman, said in an email. Cobham’s difficulties in producing the pod sets “was attributed more to compliance with FAA processes” than to technical difficulties, she said.

Boeing spokesman Chick Ramey said the company is “actively helping” Cobham “address the challenges they’re having, and we look forward to continued progress as we prepare to deliver KC-46 aircraft.”

In its latest program assessment, the Defense Contract Management Agency said that based on Boeing’s past performance, it has “low confidence” that the company will meet its most recent revised master schedule.

Herald staff contributed.

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