Military hopes for smooth switch on fuel
June 2, 2008
RAF MILDENHALL, England — A week after officials announced the end of an off-base fuel coupon program for England-based military members later this month, it remains unclear when or how a replacement system will take effect.
Air Force officials said May 23 that officially, the last date people can use the current paper coupon system is June 30. Motorists can request a refund where they purchased the coupons until July 31.
The program is overseen by the Navy Exchange. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service will roll out the new program in conjunction with 3rd Air Force, which oversees all Air Force units in England, according to an AAFES official.
The agency hopes to have a new system in place before the current coupons become invalid, spokesman Army Lt. Col. David Konop said last week.
"I don’t want to put a time frame yet because it’s too early," Konop said Friday.
But while AAFES hopes for the best, a gap in service could occur if there isn’t an extension to that June 30 deadline, he said in an e-mail.
"If there is no extension to the June 30th date, it is likely that there will be a gap in this service," Konop wrote in an e-mail. "But we are doing everything we can and we know 3 AF is as well to mitigate however long the gap might be."
NEX spokesman Philip Garcia did not say whether a deadline extension is planned. Air Force representatives could not be reached for comment Friday.
NEX’s administering of gas coupons is a throwback to a time before the Navy’s force reduction in the United Kingdom that began a few years ago, Garcia said in an e-mail last week.
NEX officials told their AAFES counterparts in November of the end to the current system, he said.
Unlike equivalent coupon systems in continental Europe, the fuel coupons here are supposed to be used for official travel only, though "the U.K. government has allowed some latitude in what could be considered ‘duty driving,’ " Garcia said.
Still, the current system, brokered through Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs department, prohibits the purchase of off-base tax-free fuel for vacations and other pleasure driving, Garcia said.
NEX’s coupon program contractor, British company Arval Co., told the agency in August 2007 that it didn’t want to continue the contract because the company now uses electronic fuel cards and the paper-based system was "inefficient," Garcia said.
Whenever it does come out, the new fuel system will be available via the NEX for Navy personnel still based at England’s Joint Maritime Facility St. Mawgan.
Third AF spokesman Maj. John Haynes said last month that this shift in the fuel coupon system was "kind of a surprise for us."
Haynes said AAFES was "looking at something like (a fuel card) eventually. But (the coupons) we have in place we sort of expected to have for a while."
Konop said the transition in England is moving "very fast," and that it took AAFES and U.S. Army Europe nearly a decade to hammer out the details of a similar fuel card coming online across Germany this year.
"For the people this applies to, everyone wants as little disruption as can be," Konop said. "I’m hoping there will not be a gap in the service."