On the heels of the grounding of its 737 Max planes, Boeing now has a new problem: a "severe situation" tied to its KC-46 Pegasus air refueling tanker aircraft. That's how Will Roper, the Air Force's acquisitions chief, describes the garbage and loose industrial tools found during inspection of multiple tankers sent to the Air Force, per CNN. "This is a big deal," Boeing factory management chastised workers in a Feb. 21 memo seen by the Seattle Times, adding "FOD issues" had diminished the Air Force's "confidence" in Boeing. "FOD" stands for "foreign object debris," and although the debris found inside the tankers wasn't found to cause a specific safety hazard, the Federal Aviation Administration website deems an FOD item as one that is "located in an inappropriate location in the airport environment [and] that has the capacity to injure airport or air carrier personnel and damage aircraft."
Per Roper's statements, it seems in this situation that the objects left behind are more of an indicator of lax quality control that could raise eyebrows on other matters—which is why the Air Force reinspected several of the tankers it had already given a once-over to, and why it stopped accepting new tanker deliveries the day before the memo went out. "Processes are in place to prevent FOD or to get rid of it when it occurs," Roper said, per Defense News. "This was Boeing having the right processes but simply not following them." On Monday, Roper visited the Boeing plant in Everett, Wash., where the tankers are assembled, and he says Boeing vowed to more carefully carry out its own inspections. Still, Roper tells the Wall Street Journal it could take up to a year before confidence in the Boeing product is fully restored: "This is a lapse in culture, and they simply have to be able to build it back." (Read more Boeing stories.)