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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Following a hiatus of almost three years, the Patriot Express is headed back to Iwakuni this spring after U.S. Transportation Command reached a six-month contract with World Airlines, officials said.

Beginning April 3, the U.S. military’s only chartered commercial air service in the Pacific will again make stops at the Marine Corps air station as part of the weekly route between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Yokota and Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

"This is really going to bring predictability into how people arrive here and it’s going to really ease a lot of the friction, the uncertainty and the trouble of getting to Iwakuni," Col. Michael A. O’Halloran, the station commander, was quoted in Iwakuni’s base newspaper. "Instead of showing up in Tokyo five hours away, you’re five minutes away."

The service is guaranteed through September, and the new carrier will provide a DC-10 aircraft with about 315 seats, according to Alan Ouellette, the current operations branch deputy chief for U.S. Forces Japan.

He said the flight will depart Seattle each Thursday and arrive on Friday at Yokota, Iwakuni and Kadena. It will remain overnight on Okinawa and then hit the same locations Saturday in reverse order on the return trip to Seattle.

In October 2006, both Misawa Air Base and Iwakuni were taken off the route after a cost-recovery goal wasn’t met.

Although it’s unlikely the Misawa leg will return in the near future, the so-called "paying passengers" have consistently exceeded financial goals set for the Japan route in the last two fiscal years, TRANSCOM officials said. That helped get Iwakuni back on the flight path.

The duty-passenger count — meaning those on permanent-change-of-station or temporary-duty orders — is crucial in making the Patriot Express "revenue-neutral" for TRANSCOM. But it’s also necessary to preserve a huge space-available travel benefit for the military community.

"Having direct flights to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni will make life much easier for the servicemembers and dependents assigned here," said Maj. Billy Canedo, a base spokesman. "Everyone here is excited about the prospect. … The leadership here worked very hard to make this happen and having the Patriot Express back is a big win."

TRANSCOM’s current Patriot Express arrangement with Northwest Airlines will remain in place through March, Ouellette said. The flight passes through Yokota every Thursday and Friday on a round-trip mission from Kadena to Seattle.

The only charge for space-A passengers headed to Seattle is a $27.40 inspection fee, or international "head tax."

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