Patriot Express flights from Aviano to Germany cut for fiscal 2017
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 29, 2016
VICENZA, Italy — A weekly chartered passenger flight from Aviano Air Base to Germany for onward flights to the United States has been canceled, the base announced this week.
The Italian leg of the Patriot Express rotator has been cut for fiscal 2017 after an audit by the U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command, the base said in a statement. The rotator’s last flight was Wednesday.
Patriot Express flights between Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Baltimore International Airport are continuing, however.
Cutting the Aviano leg will mean servicemembers on permanent change of station orders and their families will have to fly on commercial airlines from the U.S. into and out of Marco Polo International Airport in Venice. Servicemembers will be responsible for the cost of shipping a pet, which will be more expensive than what the Patriot Express flights charged.
Defense Department workers in Italy who traveled on the military chartered flights for leisure on a space-available basis lose a weekly, almost-free flight: the only charge was an international head tax.
Space-available travel will still be available on a more irregular basis, according to Aviano officials, on C-130s that fly between Ramstein and Aviano. Officials estimated that there were almost 50 such flights monthly.
“We’ll advertise on Facebook 72 hours in advance,” said a worker at the Aviano Passenger Terminal who declined to be identified. But terminal personnel won’t know whether space is available on a particular flight until it lands and the flight crew lets them know.
Servicemembers and families in Italy would also have the option of traveling on their own to Germany and taking the flights between Ramstein and Baltimore.
That is far less convenient, involving more time and expense, people posting on the passenger terminal’s website commented.
“Although, it may not be used as much as it should, it is the only money saving flight option that soldiers and airmen have in Italy,” one commenter wrote.
As part of the change, Aviano is instituting a shuttle bus service — the Patriot Shuttle — between Aviano and Marco Polo airport, about an hour’s drive. Unlike a shuttle bus to the airport from Vicenza’s Caserma Ederle, the Patriot Shuttle will not be free. Prices have yet to be set, according to base officials.
The Patriot Express program has provided flights from the United States to bases overseas since the 1960s. It has undergone numerous route changes, cuts and reversals.
As for Aviano’s service, “It may come back in the future, but right now it’s no longer available,” said Lt. Col. Michelle Charleston, 724th Air Mobility Squadron commander, in a news release.