Officials: No delays in getting tankers to McConnell, construction work done

The KC-46A will look similar to this Italian refueling tanker built from a Boeing 767.
The KC-46A will look similar to this Italian refueling tanker built from a Boeing 767. Courtesy

Although a Defense Department report says testing of the new KC-46A refueling tanker may fall six to 12 months behind schedule, representatives from Boeing, Kansas’ congressional delegation and the Air Force disagree.

Most important is that – even if there is a delay in getting the tankers to McConnell Air Force Base – $219 million in construction at the base in preparation for the new aircraft won’t be pushed back, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said Thursday.

U.S. Sen Jerry Moran, R-Kan., agreed in an e-mailed statement: “There is no expectation of delays in the necessary improvements at McConnell.”

As for getting the tanker built, Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said: “We remain on plan. We have a valid schedule.”

That schedule still calls for McConnell to start receiving the KC-46A tankers in early 2016. Boeing has a $35 billion contract to build 179 new tankers by 2027, including delivering 18 tankers to the Air Force by August 2017.

But after an annual report released this week by a division of the Defense Department said that testing of the KC-46A will “likely slip at least 6 to 12 months,” concerns were raised that getting the tankers to the bases would be delayed.

Boeing, however, still expects to have its first KC-46A flight during the first quarter of 2015 and stay on schedule with the rest of the timetable, Drelling said.

Following the Defense Department’s report, the Air Force issued a statement that said Boeing has a “greater than 90 percent probability” of meeting its contractual deadline.

“It’s two different offices looking at the same program,” Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said in explaining the differences of separate annual reviews.

Pompeo said, “There’s nothing in this report that should cause concern.”

Gathering of information for the report began a year ago, so some of the research is outdated, according to the offices of Pompeo and Moran. The report was completed last fall, Gulick said.

The 372-page report includes information on numerous military projects for all the service branches.

“This is a pretty common set of issues in aircraft development,” Pompeo said. “These things have complex engineering, so it’s not earth shattering that it’s had a few bumps.

“But we’ve been assured by the Air Force there won’t be a delay in delivery. We’re going to keep a close eye on it.”

Of the $219 million earmarked for construction at McConnell, $194 million is for building three hangars.

The economic impact of that construction is significant because it’s coming at a time when school bond projects are winding down in Wichita.

The Air Force is putting together bid specifications for the work. Actual construction isn’t expected to begin until early 2015, Pompeo said.

McConnell was selected by the Air Force in May to receive 36 of the new tankers, which eventually will replace the 1950s-era KC-135 tankers. Delivery of the full amount will trickle into the base over several years because Boeing will be building only 12 to 18 each year, Pompeo’s office said.

Some of the first 18 tankers will go to Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, which was picked by the Air Force to be the KC-46A’s formal training base. Altus will eventually get eight tankers.

Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, which is led by an air national guard unit, was selected to get 12 new tankers in 2018.

Another round of base assignment of the tankers will be held in a couple of years, and the Air Force has said it hopes to eventually have 10 bases with new tankers.

While the process is well down the road, assignments of the tankers to McConnell and the other bases are officially tentative until an environmental impact statement is completed this spring. The study is required by federal law any time a new aircraft is assigned to a base.

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