Boeing’s New CEO Under Pressure From USAF


The Air Force’s chief of staff warned new CEO David Calhoun that the 737 MAX isn’t the only item on Boeing’s to-do list. The U.S. Air Force is far less than happy with the KC-46, a 767-based tanker that, almost a decade in development, still isn’t mission ready.

“We require your attention and improved focus on the KC-46. The Air Force continues to accept deliveries of a tanker incapable of performing its primary operational mission,” the Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. David Goldfein, told Calhoun in a letter. “As one of your largest military customers, we also rely on a relationship of trust and confidence” in Boeing products, as well as long-term support and development. He reiterated that unless Boeing can improve its performance on this contract, “we will have to acknowledge our serious concerns in two areas—trust and safety,” said Goldfein.

According to, Boeing responded by saying that it “is fully committed to addressing the Air Force concerns with the KC-46 program and devoting resources required to make the KC-46 fully mission capable.”

The KC-46 has had problems with its remote-vision system, which is needed for air-to-air refueling; with the refueling boom itself; and with defective cargo locks that caused the Air Force to prohibit the aircraft from carrying passengers or cargo. The Air Force has taken delivery of 30 KC-46s and has deployed them for crew training so far. 

Marc Cook
KITPLANES Editor in Chief Marc Cook has been in aviation journalism for more than 30 years. He is a 4000-hour instrument-rated, multi-engine pilot with experience in nearly 150 types. He’s completed two kit aircraft, an Aero Designs Pulsar XP and a Glasair Sportsman 2+2, and currently flies a 2002 GlaStar.

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  1. The USAF shoulda bought the Northrop / EADS A330 MRTT/KC-30/KC-45A but … too late now. Thank you, Darlene Druyun.

    After three procurement attempts over nine years, “William J. Lynn III, the deputy defence secretary, said Boeing was ‘the clear winner’ under a formula that considered the bid prices, how well each of the planes met war-fighting needs and what it would cost to operate them over 40 years.” Good job, Bill. Here we are 18 years later and the thing still isn’t fully mission capable and is not allowed to carry passengers. Wonderful.

    Here’s an article which espouses KEEPING (sic) the KC-10 in service because of the various issues:

    Pay close attention to the airframe specs for each of the current three tankers embedded in that article.

    • First of all, the refueling concept was far more effective and suitable when the boomer looked directly at the receiver, like the KC135 and better with the KC10. In the 10, the boom operators looked through a picture window sitting up directly at the plane they were refueling. The idea that a boom operator sits in the cockpit looking through a camera is not compatible with safety in my opinion. Secondly the Air Force bought a 30-year old airplane to retrofit to its unique refueling operations, another representative of folks in the pentagon advising the Air Force Chief of Staff ‘it will work’ with minor changes!

  2. I don’t understand their lack of communication strategy: “is fully committed to addressing the Air Force concerns with the KC-46 program and devoting resources required to make the KC-46 fully mission capable.”

    This is a sentence I would have expected from the original contract but not 18 years later with the problems it has. It has no timestamp, no schedule, no target. It’s a blanket statement that Boeing should avoid at any cost if they hope to be seen as able to handle tough situations. They need deliverables and concrete measures if they can’t show tangibles. This is puzzling considering it’s happening in the civilian and military world.

  3. Boeing has the USAF by the nose and know it. They basically don’t care. USAF keeps on accepting their deficient airplanes but can’t put them into service. I think that someone needs to have a little talk with Boeing about loosing a bunch of $ if there is not a plan in place and deadlines not met for the fix.
    USAF stop playing nice and play hardball.

  4. Meanwhile, Boeing’s past CEO walks away with a 60 mil golden parachute for his good work?
    Claw back time is here and the Air Force should be taking steps to retrieve taxpayer money.

  5. Considering that the new CEO has only been in office for a week or so, I doubt that he has even had the chance to review the status of the KC-46. After all, he had to do a cameo appearance at the White House and other “important” stuff. The response letter to the Air Force sounds like a canned reply from the legal department. I find it amazing that in 18 years Boeing can’t figure out how to make a video system work. In that same period, consumers have gone from cathode ray TVs to 75 inch UHD flat screens, and video cameras have been replaced by hi-def cameras in cell phones. Maybe they should hire Toshiba or Samsung to work on that.

  6. There are two problems here:
    1.) It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Boeing has no problem spending the governments money and the government has no problem spending the tax payers money.
    2.) There is no sense of urgency on anyone’s part, Boeing or the gov., consequently, there is no one to be held accountable.
    Given Boeing’s current condition, this would be prime time for the government to put the screws to Boeing in a big way to accelerate and get what they want out of the KC-46 and any other projects for that matter. Boeing is not in any position to ignore anyone right now much less their biggest customer. I’d be putting pressure on Boeing in the biggest way possible. They are in a world of hurt right now.