The years-long, drama-filled saga to replace an aging fleet of U.S. Air Force tankers continues to drag on.
In 2011, Boeing Co. won the first phase of a lucrative $35-billion total contract to build the next generation of aerial refueling tankers after a contentious battle involving three bid competitions and prison terms for a former company executive and former Air Force official.
Boeing's design was seen as relatively low risk — the Chicago aerospace giant's tanker bid was based on a modified commercial 767 passenger jet. But delivery of the first KC-46 aircraft — last planned for August 2017 — is now expected to be more than a year late, and technical issues have cropped up during development and testing. The Air Force will eventually receive 179 new tankers.
The delays have raised the ire of the Air Force. In late March, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the House Armed Services Committee that she didn't expect the tanker to be delivered until late 2018, despite Boeing insisting that the plane would be delivered before that, in the second quarter.
"Boeing has been overly optimistic in all of their scheduled reports," she told the committee. "One of our frustrations with Boeing is that they're much more focused on their commercial activity than they are on getting this right for the Air Force."
Last year, Boeing's commercial airplanes business generated revenue of $56.7 billion, according to the company's annual report.
Boeing spokesman Charles Ramey said there is "no higher priority for the company than delivering tankers to the Air Force right now." (end of excerpt)
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