The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that Boeing faces challenges to meet the agreed test and delivery schedule for the KC-46 aerial refuelling aircraft.
Boeing was awarded a fixed price incentive contract with a ceiling price of $4.9bn to develop the first four aircraft, which will be used for testing. The company is contractually required to deliver the four development aircraft between April and May 2016. Boeing is also required to deliver a total of 18 aircraft by August 2017, which could include some of the development aircraft if they are brought to operational configuration. The programme plans to eventually field 179 aircraft in total.
Boeing has proposed a new schedule to account for problems encountered during development of the 767-based platform. The company still plans to hand over 18 operational aircraft to the Air Force by August 2017, but deliveries are programmed over a period of 6 months, instead of 14.
Test officials believe Boeing’s test schedule is optimistic and it may not have all aircraft available when needed to complete planned testing. Several key aerial refueling parts have yet to be qualified by the FAA, and final FAA certification of the KC-46 cannot be obtained until this occurs. Programme officials estimate there are four months of schedule risk to delivering 18 aircraft by August 2017 due to testing and parts qualification issues.
On the positive side, the GAO notes that KC-46 acquisition cost estimates have decreased for a third consecutive year and that Boeing is expected to achieve all the performance goals. The total acquisition cost estimate has decreased from $51.7bn in February 2011 to $48.2bn in December 2015. According to the GAO, this is due primarily to stable requirements that led to fewer than expected engineering changes.
In any case, under the fixed price incentive contract, Boeing must cover any development costs beyond the contractual ceiling. The company has already announced more than $1bn in pre-tax charges to cover wiring and fuel system issues.