More schedule changes forecast for Patriot Express
Stars and Stripes May 31, 2008
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — More changes are about to hit the Patriot Express.
Throughout June, the U.S. military’s only chartered commercial air service in the Pacific will operate on a new schedule. It will pass through Yokota every Wednesday and Thursday on a weekly round-trip mission from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and back.
The flight had been on a Thursday-Friday rotation the past two months following the bankruptcy of ATA Airlines, its old carrier. In April, Northwest Airlines stepped up with an Airbus 330 to continue the mission.
Starting around July 10, the Patriot Express will be upgraded to a Boeing 747 — which features about 100 more seats — but go to a biweekly route until the end of August, said Col. Mark Baker, the 730th Air Mobility Squadron commander. The aircraft also is set to shift course, originating in Seattle as it did previously.
"Exact schedules and times are being coordinated by the carrier with Tanker Airlift Control Center and should be available soon," Baker said. "The switch was made based on the airline’s availability to support the military’s needs ... which accounts for day and direction changes."
He said U.S. Transportation Command and Northwest have not agreed to a schedule for September and beyond, but officials are optimistic the Patriot Express will return to its traditional "Friday-Saturday" slot.
Lt. Col. Mark Harris, the acting deputy logistics director for U.S. Forces Japan, said the Boeing 747 "has far more capacity than is supportable by funded passengers" to and from Japan, so the move to flying every other week in July and August was the best option.
"USTRANSCOM, with the personal involvement of its commander, Gen. [Norton A.] Schwartz, has been working very hard to keep PE flying during the summer," Harris said. "Its very existence in June is testament to their commitment. With the loss of ATA coming as it did at the beginning of the summer vacation/PCS season, and airlines having relatively little uncommitted intercontinental capacity during the summer for that reason, it was extraordinarily difficult ... to find a carrier at the last minute, as it were.
"Small changes, given the circumstances, are to be expected, and this likely isn’t the last one we’ll see before this summer is done."
According to the Defense Travel Regulation, Air Mobility Command is the required first airlift option for so-called "paying" passengers, meaning those on permanent-change-of-station or temporary-duty orders.
Harris says servicemembers and families currently booked on the ATA-carried Patriot Express need to make new arrangements with their Traffic Management Office to ride on the Northwest aircraft.
The only charge for space-available fliers is a $27.10 transportation fee, or international "head tax."