Sharing the space with pallets full of equipment, Space-A passengers rest aboard a C-17 aircraft bound for the U.S. from Japan.

Sharing the space with pallets full of equipment, Space-A passengers rest aboard a C-17 aircraft bound for the U.S. from Japan. (Tim Wightman/Stars and Stripes)

A photo caption has been corrected.

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Space-available flights are likely to decrease as a result of budget constraints and a falling load of worldwide air missions, Defense Department officials said in a recent report studying the feasibility of expanding the free-flight program.

Defense officials told the General Accountability Office that efficiency efforts and force structure changes would mean fewer seats for servicemembers and other authorized Space-A fliers, who are able to board flights when seats are available on military aircraft flying scheduled missions.

“DOD officials also stated that 90-95 percent of space-available travel is on commercially contracted aircraft, and DOD is planning to reduce its use of contracted aircraft as a result of mission reductions and budgetary constraints,” James R. McTigue Jr., the GAO’s acting director of defense capabilities and management, wrote in a Sept. 10 letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate armed service committees.

The GAO study concluded that opening international Space-A travel to “gray-area retirees” would adversely affect uniformed servicemembers, for whom Space-A was first established.

Gray-area retirees include reservists entitled to retirement pay. The study also examined extending benefits to the dependents of gray-area retirees, as well as widows and families of deceased servicemembers.

Congress has recently considered expanding Space-A to those groups, which prompted the GAO study.

Expanding Space-A eligibility “could lead to around 20,000 travelers not being able to obtain space-available seats,” McTigue wrote.

McTigue added that the 20,000 figure might be low, since it is based on the number of people who boarded Space-A flights in 2011 and not those who tried to do so.

According to DOD data, more than 500,000 passengers used the space-available travel program for fiscal years 2009 through 2011.

Although 56,725 Space-A slots went unused in 2011, most of those flilghts traveled to undesirable locations, according to the report. Popular flights normally ran at capacity, the report stated.

In 2011, 35 percent of space-A travel flew between the U.S. and overseas locations.

The five busiest Space-A locations were Baltimore Washington International Airport, Md.; Dover Air Force Base, Del.; Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Hawaii; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; and Travis Air Force Base, Calif.


The photo caption incorrectly reported the type of aircraft. Pictured is a C-17.

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