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’Patriot Express’ reengineering on track

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFPN) -- The reengineering process to significantly scale down Patriot Express is on track, said experts in Air Mobility Command’s Air Transportation Division.

Patriot Express is an AMC-managed, military-chartered commercial air service for transporting Department of Defense customers to and from overseas locations.

Since the 1960s, Patriot Express or a similar program has provided regular passenger service from the United States to 27 locations in the European Command, Central Command and Pacific Command areas of operation.

At one time, the system handled more than 340,000 passengers a year with more than two-thirds of the seats on the contracted aircraft filled by passengers on permanent change-of-station orders.

Command officials said that in December 2001 the AMC commander saw the need to recapture passenger movement to avert substantial financial losses. This was based on data that showed more DOD passengers were choosing commercial flights rather than Patriot Express.

Division chief Col. Tonja Brickhouse said the command made many improvements in an effort to attract DOD passengers back to Patriot Express. These included price reductions, free headphones, meal upgrades and reconfigured aircraft that offer passengers more leg room, she said.

In spite of significant improvements, DOD customers continued to book commercial flights, leaving empty seats on Patriot Express flights, she said.

With commercial flights the preferred mode of travel, the AMC commander directed reengineering of Patriot Express. As part of that process, Colonel Brickhouse said all Patriot Express routes -- except for those into locations with no commercial airline service or those with force protection considerations -- would be phased out over a three-year period. By fiscal 2008, the command will eliminate all but a handful of Patriot Express missions.

As part of the reengineering process, the Defense Department approved the closure of AMC passenger gateways at Los Angeles International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and all overseas passenger reservation centers.

With the closure of the Atlanta gateway in 2004 and the Los Angeles and Seattle-Tacoma gateways on Sept. 30, the colonel said, the other services are now realizing Patriot Express will no longer be an option.

She said although the Seattle-Tacoma gateway closed, AMC is maintaining a limited Patriot Express route supporting weekly missions to Japan, including Misawa and Yokota air bases and Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station.

Colonel Brickhouse said the significantly scaled-down service at Seattle-Tacoma is being supported by a handful of Airmen from the 62nd Aerial Port Squadron at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

Additionally, following the Los Angeles and Seattle closures, a Pacific Command request was approved to extend Patriot Express service from Seattle to Kadena AB, Japan.

AMC is continuing to monitor usage during the limited Patriot Express service out of Seattle-Tacoma this fiscal year, Colonel Brickhouse said.

But she added the initial duty ridership numbers don't look good.

"If this trend continues, AMC will recommend to U.S. Transportation Command that these flights be terminated on Sept. 30, 2006," Colonel Brickhouse said.

The colonel said the bottom line is that both commands have worked hard to keep Patriot Express and they continue to do everything they can to support the warfighter.

"We understand there are other concerns, including those of passengers who have previously enjoyed space-available travel on Patriot Express flights," she said. "However, we can't continue to operate missions with low duty ridership simply to support Space A travel.

“We have to have balance. We have to meet the warfighters' requirements, but we also have to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money," she said.

Unless usage picks up significantly in the coming months, AMC experts said the Patriot Express reengineering will continue as planned with the elimination of all Pacific routes on Sept. 30, 2006.

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