Testing for a new Boeing refueling tanker could be delayed 6 to 12 months, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
In a report filed by Michael Gilmore, Operational Test and Evaluation, director, he finds readiness for the scheduled start continues to be "high risk."
But a Boeing spokesman tells Eyewitness News the aviation company remains confident in the KC-46A testing schedule and continues to meet contractual requirements.
"Our current assessment confirms that we have a valid flight test plan in place and that we remain on plan to deliver the first 18 combat-ready Tankers to the U.S. Air Force by 2017," Boeing said in a statement to Eyewitness News.
The $52 billion tanker program will replace the aging KC-135 tankers.
Boeing's modern air tanker is expected to call Wichita's McConnell Air Force Base home in a few years, once the massive planes roll out of assembly.
An Air Force spokesman released a statement saying, "The KC-46 development test program is aggressive but achievable. The full time period reserved for Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) remains intact. All Integrated Test Team (ITT) members are working toward the planned IOT&E start date in May 2016. Schedule risk mitigations, such as MOAs with outside agencies and leveraging Boeing commercial test resources, are in place. Integrated test plans will optimize the flight test program in such a manner that each flight will maximize the use of the data collected to address Boeing, the FAA, Development Test, and where it makes sense, the Operational Test requirements. This "Test Once" concept allows the possibility of multiple agencies' unique requirements being accomplished with each event. In addition, the team is working closely with Boeing to ensure flight test plan development addresses receiver certification needs. The KC-46 Program Office 2013 Schedule Risk Assessment indicated that Boeing has a greater than 90% probability of meeting their contractual Required Assets Available (18 aircraft and associated support delivered) date of August 2017."
Wichita's Spirit Aerosystems has been contracted to make the fuselage for the new tanker. The company said a slip in the schedule would likely not affect Spirit workers.
"It is too soon for us to know if this will impact Spirit," said Jarrod Barlett, Spirit spokesman. "Right now we are continuing to produce our piece of the KC-46 to meet our customer's needs."
Sen. Jerry Moran issued a statement saying, "I was concerned to hear about an annual U.S. Defense Department weapons programs report that alleges a testing delay in the KC-46A," Sen. Moran said. "The President and Congress made clear their support for this project with its inclusion and passage of the Omnibus appropriations bill. I have already inquired about the report's findings and will continue to work with Air Force leadership to make certain the KC-46A arrives in Wichita in as soon as possible."
From Rep. Mike Pompeo's office: “Many people, myself included, fought hard to bring the new KC-46A tankers to McConnell Air Force Base, and we’re all looking forward to making sure they reach their new home safely. As everyone in the aerospace industry knows, bringing a new product to market is not easy. My office is in constant communications with the Air Force on this program, and we will continue to work to ensure these tankers are delivered on-time and on-budget.”
Eyewitness News is committed to getting the facts correct. Our on-air version of this story incorrectly reported former Congressman Todd Tiahrt was instrumental in bringing the refueling tankers to McConnell Air Force Base.
While in office, Tiahrt pushed for Boeing to get the tanker contract but he was out of office when the Air Force decided on McConnell.
It was current Congressman Mike Pompeo, Senator Jerry Moran and Senator Pat Roberts who pushed for the Kansas location.
A previous version of an online story incorrectly attributed portions of the report to a Boeing official. The headline of the story has also been changed to reflect the testing delay is a possibility.