Boeing takes another Starliner charge against its earnings

WASHINGTON — Boeing said July 27 it will take another charge against its earnings because of the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew program as the company and NASA get closer to a first flight of the vehicle with astronauts on board.

Boeing, in its second quarter financial results release, said it recorded a $93 million charge in the quarter from its commercial crew program, “driven by launch manifest updates and additional costs associated with OFT-2,” the second uncrewed test flight of the vehicle that took place in May.

The company did not elaborate on the specific issues that caused the charge, and only briefly mentioned the program during an earnings call with financial analysts dominated by the company’s commercial airliner programs.

“It was important. It was an emotional ‘up’ for all of us at Boeing to get back on track,” David Calhoun, president and chief executive of Boeing, said in the call, referring to the OFT-2 test. He later called the mission “a pivotal and emotional test for The Boeing Company and we feel good about it and we’re ready for the crewed flight.”

Boeing has now recorded $688 million in charges related to development of Starliner. The company took a $410 million charge in January 2020, a month after the original and unsuccessful Orbital Flight Test mission, to cover the costs of investigating the problems and flying a second mission. The company took an additional $185 million charge against earnings in October 2021 after a valve problem delayed the OFT-2 launch last August.

The six-day OFT-2 mission in May, though, was largely successful, with no major issues reported during the spacecraft’s launch, docking with the International Space Station and return to Earth. That leaves open the possibility of proceeding with Starliner’s first flight with astronauts on board, called the Crew Test Flight (CFT), before the end of the year.

“You saw the Starliner dock with the ISS, setting the stage for the Crew Flight Test later this year and achieving the domestic redundancy that is so important to the ISS mission,” John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for the ISS at Boeing, said in remarks July 26 at the ISS Research and Development Conference here.

NASA announced June 16 that CFT will fly two astronauts, Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore, rather than the three originally planned to fly the mission. Williams was moved up to CFT from Starliner-1, the first operational Starliner mission. Nicole Mann, who has originally been assigned to CFT, was reassigned last year to SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission launching in September. Mike Fincke, also previously assigned to CFT, will train as a backup for CFT and be available for future flight assignments.

The CFT mission, NASA announced then, will last two weeks after earlier proposing to keep it at the station for up to six months. A two-week mission, the agency said, “is sufficient to meet all NASA and Boeing test objectives for CFT,” and a longer stay is not needed since Crew Dragon is now handling crew rotation missions.

If CFT is successful, Starliner could start operational missions as soon as the fall of 2023, after the SpaceX Crew-6 mission launching in the spring of 2023. That will be the first of six missions under its Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities, or CCtCap, contract awarded in 2014. NASA has already added three flights to the six awarded to SpaceX under its own CCtCap contact, and announced June 1 its intent to add five more.

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