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AMC commander explains Patriot Express cutbacks

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFPN) -- Air Mobility Command officials announced in February that the Patriot Express, a transit system for official travelers mainly in the Pacific and Europe, would be dramatically scaled down during the next few years.

During a visit here, Gen. John W. Handy, AMC commander, explained why the program will be cut back.

"The real issue boils down to the financial support of a mission that didn't generate the customer base to support it," said General Handy, who is also the commander of U.S. Transportation Command. "The services buy the space on Patriot Express, and what we found over time is that people don't use the Patriot Express."

Then why the packed seats on each flight?

Most of the seats used on the Patriot Express flights have been by space-available travelers, General Handy said.

"The Patriot Express is popular with space-available travelers, but the people who are supposed to travel on it (usually) get a commercial ticket," he said.

General Handy said what it all comes down to is cutting costs of a program that has not been used to its potential.

"Right now the services are paying for the commercial ticket and the seats on the Patriot Express," he said. "The bottom line was a $12- to $14-million loss every year out of service operations and maintenance budgets. As the military services looked at it, it made sense that if people are voting with their feet and using commercial travel, it made no sense to continue to pay for Patriot Express."

General Handy said there are still some issues being worked out, such as pet travel. But he assured people stationed overseas that the goal will be to make things as easy as possible.

"We will continue to work hard because the bottom line, regardless of the cost, we want to do the things that will support our families as they move back and forth between (duty station) changes," he said.

Space-A flights on other military aircraft will help get some travelers to where they need to go, but with the ongoing war on terrorism, seats are limited, General Handy said.

"The normal assets that are traveling around this theater and the rest of the world that would provide seats for space-available travel are consumed by supporting the war in Iraq or Afghanistan or other places in the world, which includes this theater," he said. "While we are engaged as heavily as we are, (we are) not going to see the space-available travel that would normally expect, but it’s not going to be that way all the time."

The routes will be restructured based on planned elimination or closing of service locations, AMC officials said.

In fiscal 2005, the Atlanta gateway will close, and Patriot Express flights to Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany, will end. Military officials will also adjust the frequency and size of flights to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland.

In fiscal 2006, service will end to here; Osan and Kunsan air bases, South Korea; NAS Keflavik, Iceland; and Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. The reservation center at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, and the gateway at Los Angeles International Airport will also close.

Fiscal 2007 marks the end of service to three American bases in Japan: Yokota and Misawa air bases and the Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni, as well as the Japan passenger reservation center. The Seattle gateway will also close, and AMC's main reservation center at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., will increase its operating hours.

In the last phase, slated for fiscal 2008, service will end to Lajes Field, Azores; Aviano AB, Italy; Rota, Spain; and Sigonella, Sicily. The reservation center in Germany will close, and AMC's center will begin continuous operations.

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