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Patriot Express flight halted temporarily

The Patriot Express has been grounded following last week’s bankruptcy filing by its commercial carrier, ATA Airlines.

CHRISTOPHER B. STOLTZ / S&S

By VINCE LITTLE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 10, 2008

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Patriot Express has been grounded following last week’s bankruptcy filing by its commercial carrier.

ATA Airlines shut down operations last Thursday due to the unexpected loss of a military transport subcontract overseen by FedEx Corp. Once the nation’s 10th-largest air carrier, it entered bankruptcy for the second time in just over three years.

The U.S. military’s only chartered commercial air service in the Pacific normally passes through Yokota every Friday and Saturday on weekly roundtrip flights from Seattle to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. Last weekend’s flight was the first to be canceled.

Lt. Col. Scott Graham, the 730th Air Mobility Squadron’s deputy commander, said Air Mobility Command is coordinating with ATA’s parent company to continue the Patriot Express mission on a Northwest Airlines aircraft. The Indianapolis-based airline had operated under Global Aero Logistics Inc.

“There will be no Patriot Express mission this week as they continue to work out the details with the new carrier,” Graham said. “We hope to have the Patriot back up and running next week.”

With the carrier switch, he added, the Patriot Express flight schedule also may change.

Other AMC flights will continue as normal on military aircraft, officials said. Passengers should check with terminal representatives or automated recordings for the latest flight information.

In a statement, ATA said the cancellation of a critical agreement with FedEx for most of the airline’s charter business left it unable to offset soaring fuel prices. That arrangement gave ATA a significant share of the airlift contracts to fly military members and their families overseas.

Last weekend, AMC and the contract carrier provided commercial tickets to move passengers from Seattle to Japan, said Alan Ouellette, the current operations branch deputy chief for U.S. Forces Japan. Pending a resolution, Traffic Management Offices are rebooking duty passengers originating in Japan.

The Patriot Express was upgraded last September with a DC-10 aircraft, which features 310 seats and had replaced the smaller L-1011.

The duty-passenger count — those on permanent change of station or temporary-duty orders — is crucial to making the flight “revenue-neutral” for U.S. Transportation Command. It’s also a necessary stipulation in preserving a huge space-available travel benefit for the military community. The only charge for space-A fliers headed to the United States is a $27.10 transportation fee, or international “head tax.”

For Yokota AMC flight information, call DSN 225-7111. At Kadena, it’s available at DSN 634-2159.

Stars and Stripes reporter Bryce S. Dubee and The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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