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Flights with the military’s air travel service Patriot Express will decrease to a trickle beginning next fiscal year.

A worldwide restructuring plan — brought on by high cost, a rigid schedule and too many empty seats — will also mean fewer space-available seats for servicemembers, civilians, families and retirees on leisure travel.

The upcoming plan to eliminate most routes will save about $67 million spent on permanent change of station moves and temporary-duty travel, according to an Air Mobility Command news release.

According to AMC plans, in fiscal 2005 — which starts in October — flights to Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany will end. The military will also adjust the frequency and size of flights to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Keflavik, Iceland.

In fiscal 2006, flights to Keflavik and RAF Mildenhall, England, will end.

And in the last phase, slated for fiscal 2008, service will be terminated to Lajes Field, Azores; Aviano Air Base, Italy; Rota, Spain; and Sigonella, Sicily. The Germany passenger reservation center will be closed that year.

The Patriot Express system has four contracted U.S. gateway international airports: Atlanta-Hartsfield, Baltimore-Washington, Los Angeles and Seattle-Tacoma. It has four passenger reservation centers, located in Germany, Japan, Hawaii and the continental United States. The restructure will end in fewer flights and leave only one U.S. gateway, at BWI.

Across the globe, flights to the 27 Patriot Express locations in European Command, Central Command and Southern Command areas from the United States will be phased out over four years. However, flights will continue at locations with no commercial service or where there are force protection considerations, according to the news release.

In Europe, the Patriot Express has ferried servicemembers and families to and from the States since the 1960s. Now, servicemembers on orders and their families will have to take commercial flights to and from overseas duty stations.

AMC officials said Patriot Express handles more than 340,000 passengers annually, but that official passengers fill only about two-thirds of the seats. The flights must follow a set schedule that does not change during high and low PCS seasons.

Currently, the military is responsible for all seats in the aircraft, so when only two thirds of an aircraft is filled, the remaining empty seats are money lost, according to an AMC spokesman who declined to give his name, citing command policy.

With the restructuring plan, only individual seats will be bought through the General Service Administration’s City Pair program, he said.

“The City Pair program that buys civilian tickets … allows for us to pay just individual costs. That’s how it saves money. AMC is not going to have to pay for seats that are not occupied,” the AMC spokesman said.

Despite the number of empty seats, space-A travel aboard Patriot Express aircraft is often preferred to a ride on military aircraft because the seats are comparable to commercial economy class and often offer services such as free movies.

However, after the restructuring, military aircraft will be the only choice for travelers hoping to take a trip with space-A.

Details of Patriot Express flight changes in Europe will be discussed at a meeting at Ramstein Air Base next week, according to Air Force officials on Rhein-Main Air Base.

For more information on the GSA’s Travel and City Pair program, go to www.gsa.gov.

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