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RAF MILDENHALL, England — Air Mobility Command will eliminate the Patriot Express service to RAF Mildenhall after Oct. 1, citing customer preference for other means of travel as a main reason.

“We call it ‘leakage’ when customers who can use the flight use other commercial means,” said Col. Tonja Brickhouse, chief of the air transportation division at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

She said this “leakage” is pushing a restructuring of the entire Patriot Express network, which has operated in some form since the 1960s, providing passenger service to 27 locations in the European Command, Central Command and Southern Command areas of responsibility.

By fiscal 2008, Brickhouse said, Patriot Express will service areas only where commercial transportation is not available or security concerns are high, such as Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Diego Garcia, saving $67 million per year.

AMC is willing to lose money on the service if customers clamor for it, she said, but they seem to prefer the flexibility provided by commercial travel.

“The ridership issues have been going on for years,” Brickhouse said in a telephone interview.

AMC has offered different routes and arrival times, changed aircraft to offer more leg room, upgraded the meals and other perks, but to no avail, she said.

“It’s not just the money,” she said. “It’s ‘What does the customer want?’”

The flight to RAF Mildenhall originates each Saturday in Baltimore and flies to England via Lajes Field in the Azores. It returns along that route on the same day.

People on permanent change of station or temporary-duty status soon will purchase commercial tickets through military channels, Brickhouse said.

They will travel on the daily shuttle buses from RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath to Heathrow or Gatwick airports south of London, a journey of about 100 miles, said Glenys Mitchell, operations manager for the 727th Air Mobility Squadron.

People who travel space-available on the Patriot Express will be most affected by the change. Mitchell said the Patriot Express mission almost always has a sizable number of space-available seats.

Waiting for those seats recently were Senior Airman Eric Jones, his wife, Carrie, and 3-month old Gabriel, hoping to make the hop to Baltimore.

“I know a lot of people that come and sign up for space-A,” said Jones of the 48th Munitions Squadron at RAF Lakenheath.

His wife said the cost would be $1,550 on a commercial flight. The AMC mission would cost less than $100.

Their young son, they said, would not fare well on one of the military flights that will still be available for space-available travel, forcing them to take commercial travel.

Service is also being eliminated this year to Osan and Kunsan air bases in South Korea; Kadena Air Base, Japan; and Keflavik, Iceland. Next year, the Patriot Express will disappear from Yokota and Misawa air bases and the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, all in Japan.

In the final year of restructuring, service will end to Rota, Spain, and Aviano Air Base, Italy.

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