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Army halts Apache helicopter deliveries

U.S. Army AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters assigned to 1st Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB) in flight over an Alaskan mountain range near Fort Wainwright, Alaska, June 3, 2019. ((U.S. Army photo by CW2 Cameron Roxberry/Released)

The U.S. Army has stopped accepting Apache helicopters from Boeing after the company found that an employee kept “improper” records concerning parts installed on the aircraft.

It’s the latest quality-control issue to bedevil America’s largest planemaker, which is trying to shift its company’s culture and repair its public image after two deadly airliner crashes and a production line that left tools and trash inside new tanker aircraft.

“At this time the Army is still conducting a comprehensive review of a number of Boeing processes, production, and manufacturing plans for critical safety items applicable to all AH-64E aircraft production,” Lt. Col. Brandon Kelley, an Army spokesman, said in an emailed statement.

When it learned of “improper record keeping” at its AH-64 Apache factor in Mesa, Arizona, Boeing “immediately notified the Army,” Steve Parker, vice president and general manager of Boeing Vertical Lift, said in a statement provided by a company spokesman.

“Boeing and the government are jointly reviewing our Mesa quality management processes and procedures,” Parker said. “Flight operations and deliveries will resume when Boeing and the Army are satisfied this issue has been resolved and appropriate corrective action plans have been implemented.”

Boeing no longer employs the worker who kept the improper records, according to a person with knowledge of the issue.

Boeing’s Mesa operation builds new Apaches and overhauls old ones with more modern equipment – a process known as remanufacturing. The company continues to build aircraft amid the delivery stoppage, an industry source said.

“The Army will begin acceptance of aircraft once conditions have been satisfied to ensure production processes meet standards for safety and quality and the potential for future quality escapes has been fully mitigated,” Kelley said. “The Army will continue to work with Boeing in reviewing their quality processes and manufacturing of critical safety items and recommend changes as necessary to prevent future delivery of non-conforming product.”

Kelley said that soldiers’ lives were not put at risk by the issues.

It’s not the first time the Army has suspended Apache deliveries. From March to August 2018, the service halted acceptances after finding a flaw in a part that holds the helicopter’s rotors to the aircraft.

Boeing quality-control practices have been called into question by both the commercial industry and the military. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating potential manufacturing issues on 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

The U.S. Air Force had to halt deliveries of KC-46 tankers on numerous occasions after military inspectors found trash, parts, and tools left inside the aircraft. In March 2019, Will Roper, the head of Air Force acquisition, blamed the company’s assembly line culture for the issues.

The coronavirus pandemic has only made things worse for Boeing and its suppliers as air travel evaporates and airlines cancel plane orders. Earlier this year, executives said the company’s $34 billion defense business would outperform its typically lucrative commercial business for the first time in more than a decade.

Coronavirus-related factory shutdowns and production slowdowns started taking a toll on Boeing’s defense business in the spring. Boeing delivered 54 fewer military aircraft and satellites so far this year when to the first three quarters of 2019, a 31 percent decline, according to company data.

This year, Boeing has delivered 10 KC-46 tankers, less than half of the 21 delivered through the third quarter of 2019.


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