DOD to eliminate most Patriot Express flights, starting in 2006
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Citing cost, flexibility and empty seats, the Defense Department plans to eliminate almost all Patriot Express routes starting in fiscal 2006.
Patriot Express is the military’s chartered commercial air service.
The change will require servicemembers on permanent change of station orders and their families to take commercial flights to and from overseas locations, Air Mobility Command officials said in a news release last week. Fewer Patriot Express flights also mean fewer space-available seats for servicemembers, civilians, families and retirees on leisure travel.
In South Korea and Japan, Patriot Express will be phased out over a two-year period, an AMC spokesman told Stripes via e-mail.
The service will cease at Osan and Kunsan air bases, South Korea, and at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, in fiscal 2006. The Patriot Express gateway at Los Angeles International Airport also will close that year, as will the passenger reservation center at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
In fiscal 2007, Japan service will end at Yokota and Misawa air bases, and Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station; and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport gateway and Yokota’s passenger reservation center also will close.
The passenger reservation center helps duty passengers make reservations for permanent change of station moves, said Capt. Krishaan Anderson, officer in charge of operations at Yokota’s AMC passenger terminal.
Across the globe, all Patriot Express routes will be phased out over a four-year period, except at locations with no commercial service or where there are force-protection considerations, AMC officials said.
Patriot Express routes to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Diego Garcia will continue, said an AMC spokesman. And the Baltimore-Washington Airport gateway will remain to service Patriot Express force protection requirements and locations with no Defense Department-approved commercial airline service, the spokesman said.
He said the restructuring plan will save the Defense Department about $67 million per year — once fully implemented in fiscal 2008 — “by eliminating a duplicate service that can be obtained for less money and with greater flexibility from the commercial sector.”
Anderson said the military will pay to send servicemembers and families on permanent change of station orders by commercial flight.
“What they’re saying is it’s a lot cheaper to send them commercial and not have to worry about contracting a whole aircraft,” he said. Patriot Express was “set up mainly to do PCS moves,” he said.
Patriot Express — known by different names over the years — has provided regular passenger service from the United States to 27 overseas locations since the 1960s.
AMC officials said Patriot Express handles more than 340,000 passengers annually but official fliers fill just more than two thirds of the seats. DOD passengers on leisure travel vie for the remaining seats on a space-available or priority basis.
“There was usage, no doubt, but not everything was filled up,” Anderson said. “That’s where space-a came in, because it was almost a guarantee, especially during the winter time,” when fewer people relocate to a new base.
The only charge for space-available fliers is a $23 international head tax, Anderson said.
Each Patriot Express flight has from 325 to 350 seats. About three Patriot Express flights typically service Yokota during a two-week period, Anderson said.
At Misawa Air Base, more than 3,200 passengers flew Patriot Express as space-a or duty passengers in 2003, said Staff Sgt. Mikal Canfield. About 1,500 seats were unused — enough for six empty flights, he said.
“Although space-a will continue to be available at Misawa, we cannot project what kinds of flights will be available to Misawa residents two years from now,” Canfield said. “Just as anywhere else in the world, people at Misawa will have to use commercial airlines if space-a service is not available.”
Anderson said no plans currently exist to offer more space-available seats on military aircraft in the Pacific after Patriot Express ends.
AMC officials said duty passengers will travel on commercial airlines through the General Service Administration’s City Pair program. Airfares offered under this program — available for federal travelers on official business — average a 74 percent discount off comparable commercial fares, according to the GSA Web site: www.gsa.gov.