The KC-46's Deficiencies Demonstrate the Benefit of Fixed-Price Contracts | Citizens Against Government Waste

The KC-46's Deficiencies Demonstrate the Benefit of Fixed-Price Contracts

The WasteWatcher

The multi-purpose KC-46 faces time on the shelf following an incident when one aircraft’s cargo restraints became unlocked during flight.  According to a September 12, 2019 Defense News article, the Air Force has indefinitely barred the KC-46 from carrying cargo and passengers.

Air Force Mobility Command spokesman Col. Damien Pickart said in a statement, “As a result of this discovery, the Air Force has submitted a Category 1 deficiency report and is working with Boeing to identify a solution.”  Category 1 deficiencies involve the most serious flaws that could endanger aircrew and aircraft, and is the fourth such problem found in the KC-46.

A Defense News source claimed that if “…all restraints on a particular pallet had become unlocked, it would be able to roll freely throughout the cabin.  If all cargo became unlatched, it could pose a safety risk to aircrew or even unbalance the aircraft – making the plane ‘difficult, if not impossible’ to control.”

Given the KC-46’s multifunctional role – it is designed to carry cargo and passengers, and perform refueling and medical evacuation missions – there are broad implications for the Air Force and Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer.  Operational testing for the tanker, which was set to begin this fall, may now be delayed.

In the meantime, Boeing is beginning to feel the crunch.  The company is under a fixed-price contract, meaning it is on the hook for any costs beyond the $4.9 billion initially awarded for the KC-46.  Boeing has thus far chipped in $3.5 billion of its own money to address problems with the aircraft.  This total is set to increase given the recent trouble.

Of the 179 KC-46s the Air Force intends to purchase, 52 are currently on contract, and 18 have been delivered.

While the continued troubles of the KC-46 represents bad news for the Air Force and Boeing, it has demonstrated the benefits of the Pentagon locking contractors into fixed-price deals.

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