The US Air Force confirmed that during a routine check in April last year, use of contaminated equipment caused a damage of over $4 million to the presidential aircraft fleet, Air Force One, putting the plane at the risk of a mid-flight fire.
According to a report by the Air Force Material Command, the three Boeing mechanics working under a “heavy maintenance contract” between the US Air Force and Boeing “failed to follow proper maintenance procedures leading to the contamination of the oxygen system.” The employees labeled as Mishap Mechanics (MM) by the Air Force were working on one of the two Air Force one crafts VC-25A which is a specially configured Boeing 747-200B designated to fly the president.
“The Board President found by a preponderance of evidence MM1, MM2, and MM3 caused the mishap by supplying and using non-oxygen clean tools, parts, components, a regulator, and an unauthorized cleaning procedure while performing oxygen system leak checks on the MA in violation of required procedures.”
All the tools used in the maintenance of aircraft’s oxygen system need to be “oxygen clean” in order to prevent any contamination damage that could potentially spark a fire in the middle of a flight. On the contrary, one of the mechanics (MM1) used non-oxygen clean tools for the routine maintenance, and the performed an unauthorized procedure using contaminated tools in an attempt to decontaminate the components, with the assistance of another mechanic (MM2). Another mechanic (MM3) assisted in the replacement of the contaminated parts.
An aircraft flies over the height of 10,000 meters, where there is very little air, and that too is extremely cold. The craft does not carry enough air supply to last the entire journey, so the cabins are pressurized using “bleed air” extracted from compressor stages of the turbine engine. It provides air both for pressurizing the cabin and for the pneumatic systems of the craft. There is reserve oxygen supply that provides air in a case when the plane gradually or spontaneously decompresses. The conventional aircraft have only 20 minutes worth of oxygen supply, but the Air Force One Oxygen system can provide a support for hours. The system on board the president’s aircraft are considerably more sensitive to contamination, and minuscule fragments of static material can ignite the highly flammable compressed oxygen system.
The mistake was discovered by Boeing employees on a follow up check up procedure, who then reported it to the US Air Force accepting full responsibility. During a press conference they said:
“Boeing fully understands the level of responsibility that comes from working on the President’s aircraft. We took swift action to self-report the incident to the US Air Force. The oxygen system was remediated by Boeing at no cost to the government.”
The mistake was discovered and corrected and has not affected the president as the Air Force One’s fleet changes continuously with a minimum of two fully equipped aircraft. Such a mistake on the part of Boeing is rare with their stringent quality checks. The procedure was performed a year ago back in April 2016, when Barack Obama was still the president. The violations incurred by the mechanics are under investigation, and the severity of the act will have dire consequences. There is no certainty as to what exactly will be the penalty for the mechanics.