WASHINGTON, Aug 4 (Reuters) - A chemical mix-up involving the fuel system of the first fully equipped Boeing Co KC-46A tanker is likely to delay the first flight of the new jet, which was planned for September, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
The incident is the latest setback for Boeing’s $49 billion program to develop new refueling planes for the Air Force. Last month the company took a $536 million after-tax charge to deal with unrelated fuel system problems.
Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said Boeing had informed the service that a mislabeled solution was mistakenly inserted into the aircraft’s fuel system, which is used both to fuel the aircraft and refuel other warplanes in mid-flight, during ground vibration testing.
The sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly, said the full impact of the incident, which occurred last month, was unclear.
“Boeing is in the process of auditing all parts of the fuel system in order to determine which portions of the fuel system were exposed,” Gulick said. “Once it is complete, we’ll have a better idea how this incident will affect the first flight.”
Boeing spokesman Chick Ramey said a team was working on “an emergent issue,” but it was not a “design or manufacturing” problem. “We are currently assessing the potential impact of this issue on scheduled program activities,” he said.
Boeing last week said executive Scott Fancher, who helped get the 787 commercial airliner program on track, was taking charge of the tanker program.
The Seattle Times, which first reported the incident on Friday, said the mishap caused corrosion and damaged the fuel system of the jet, including a new advanced fuel boom designed to provide fuel to fighter jets and other warplanes in the air. Boeing did not comment on those details.
One source familiar with the incident said the fuel tanks themselves did not appear to be damaged, with the main effect seen largely on the system’s “inner plumbing” of seals and gaskets.
As late as last month, when the tanker charge was disclosed, Brigadier General Duke Richardson, the Air Force official in charge of the program, said he remained optimistic that Boeing would meet its delivery targets and that the first fully integrated KC-46A tanker would fly in September, as planned.
Boeing must absorb the additional costs of development of the program since U.S. government costs are capped at $4.9 billion under a fixed-price contract. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal)