Boeing Stirs Pentagon’s Ire With More Dings, Damage to Aircraft

Boeing Co. has been cited by the Pentagon’s contracts management agency for an increase in incidents of damage to military aircraft or components at three of its facilities.

The citation from Army Lieutenant General David Bassett, director of the Defense Contract Management Agency, cited “recent negative trends” in mishaps at Boeing’s facilities in Seattle, San Antonio and Mesa, Arizona, “that far exceeds historical rates” and are “not consistent with expected performance.”

The results could include damage from parts falling off a cart during transportation or too little overhead “clearance when maneuvering the aircraft or ground support equipment resulting in repairs needing to be made,” Matthew Montgomery, a spokesman for the contracts agency, said in an email.

“Our analysis of mishaps indicates a disproportionate number of events occurring at Boeing facilities” since 2018 involving aircraft or parts damaged before delivery to the military, Bassett told Leanne Caret, chief executive officer of Boeing’s defense unit, in a previously undisclosed June letter obtained by Bloomberg News.

The mishaps add to other indications of challenged performance at units of Chicago-based Boeing, the No. 2 defense contractor after Lockheed Martin Corp. They include problems with parts quality for Apache AH-64 helicopters that led to a recent halt in delivery that’s still in effect and a wide-ranging Army-led inspection of the Mesa facility. In addition, Boeing is still struggling to deliver a KC-46 refueling tanker that meets refueling system specifications nine years after the company won the contract.

Mishaps at Boeing facilities increased from 18% of those tracked by the defense contracts agency for large aviation contractors in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to 38% in 2019. As of June, they stood at 50%, far exceeding “levels observed in other large DoD aircraft contractors of similar scope over the same time period,” Bassett wrote.

The issues included a lack of procedures, a failure to follow those in place and “inattention or supervisory factors” that “contributed to the majority of these mishaps,” Bassett wrote.

Of particular concern was Boeing’s Seattle facility, where 66% of the company’s fiscal 2020 mishaps occurred, he wrote.

Since the letter, “Boeing leadership and their employees have responded well” and “have initiated changes that should lead to better quality and mishap outcomes,” Bassett said in a statement. “We look forward to those changes demonstrating enduring improvements in quality and mishap reduction that will improve the products we receive.”

Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said the company didn’t have a comment on the Bassett letter.

Montgomery, the contracts agency spokesman, said that Boeing ranks in the top three of the 13 major aviation contractors tracked for reported mishaps over fiscal 2019 and 2020.

“Each mishap is unique and some mishaps are still under investigation,” Montgomery said. “Some mishaps represent a failure to follow a procedure or take necessary preventative action.”

During the time period reviewed, Boeing had five reportable mishaps in fiscal 2017 and four in fiscal 2018, he said. “They are currently sitting at 11 mishaps for fiscal 2020.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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