USAF forced to move Boeing KC-46A funds to sustain older KC-135s

The US Air Force (USAF) plans to move $57 million in FY2020 funds from the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus in-flight refuelling tanker programme to support the cost of flying and maintaining its fleet of older KC-135 Stratotankers longer than it expected.

Air Mobility Command is planning to operate some legacy KC-135 tankers longer than planned because of delivery delays and deficiencies with the Boeing KC-46, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The service accepted the first KC-46 in January 2019, but the aircraft have three critical deficiencies related to the refuelling subsystems. The company was on contract to deliver 18 aircraft with three fully functional aerial refuelling subsystems in 2017, but won’t deliver on that promise until June 2020 – nearly three years behind schedule.

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KC-46A at Boeing facility


Air Mobility Command officials told the GAO that its decision to retain some legacy KC-135 aircraft would be reviewed annually. If the 1950s-era aircraft are retained more funding would be shifted from the KC-46 programme to support the older tankers.

Boeing plans to deliver 36 KC-46 tankers to the service in 2019 despite two stoppages earlier in the year when foreign object debris was found inside multiple aircraft. Those aircraft will later receive retrofits to fix issues.

Programme officials estimate it will take three to four years to develop fixes for the deficiencies and a few more years to retrofit up to 106 aircraft in the field, says the GAO. The USAF and Boeing will incur costs to fix the deficiencies, with the service’s portion estimated to be more than $300 million. The USAF is withholding 20% payment on each aircraft until Boeing fixes the deficiencies and other non-compliance issues.

The USAF plans to limit some refuelling operations until the KC-46 tankers become fully functional, says the GAO.

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Groundhandler error saw Jetstar A320 sustain engine damage

Confusion between groundhandling staff resulted in a Jetstar Airbus A320 sustaining minor engine damage after ingesting a clipboard that had been left in one of its cowlings.

The incident occurred during the evening of 27 October 2017 and involved A320 VH-VGY, which was operating a service from Auckland to Sydney.

After loading the last cargo container in the aircraft’s cargo hold, a leading hand placed a clipboard containing paperwork into the right-hand engine cowling to protect it from rain, with the intention of retrieving it later. He then went to the flight deck to pass on other paperwork to the crew, before returning to co-ordinate the aircraft’s pushback.

Around ten minutes later, a dispatcher conducted a ‘duty of care’ walk-around of the jet and noticed the clipboard in the cowling and thought that the leading hand would return to retrieve it. Soon after, the engines were started up and the A320 commenced its taxi.

As the aircraft was taxying, the leading hand realised he did not have the clipboard, and asked the dispatcher if she had picked it up. They returned to where the aircraft had been and noticed paper debris on the ground. The crew then organized for their operations centre to contact the flight crew, with messages relayed by the air traffic and surface controllers.

Despite not observing any anomalies to the engine’s operation, the crew elected to return to Auckland. An engineering inspection found paper throughout the engine, as well as minor damage to a fan blade and an attrition liner.

In its final report on the incident, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that the dispatcher did not follow company policy of notifying a supervisor or the leading hand about the clipboard.

Jetstar and its groundhandler Aerocare subsequently issued safety notices outlining that foreign object debris also includes items that may be accidentally left behind. Jetstar also updated its dispatch procedures to include more detail on checks and responsibilities, as well as how to communicate with flight crew in non-normal situations.

“This incident demonstrates the effect foreign object debris has on aircraft operations and emphasises the importance of not placing objects in aircraft engines. It further highlights that all staff operating near aircraft are responsible for reporting any non-normal events they encounter,” the ATSB adds.

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