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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Patriot Express will be back in the skies over mainland Japan and Okinawa on a weekly basis starting next month, the U.S. Transportation Command announced Tuesday.

Beginning Oct. 2, it will pass through Yokota every Thursday and Friday on a round trip mission from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The U.S. military’s only chartered commercial air service in the Pacific is now guaranteed with Northwest Airlines through March 30, officials said.

TRANSCOM did not receive an acceptable offer to cover Patriot Express flights from April to September 2009, according to Larry Lorentzen, a transportation analyst for the organization’s operations and plans directorate. He said it’ll reopen the bidding process with various Civil Reserve Air Fleet carriers after Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

"This process is not unusual for annual requirements, and all CRAF carriers, including Northwest Airlines, will be eligible to fill remaining weekly mission schedules," he added.

"We are confident that the commercial industry will be able to fill our requirements and meet the travel needs of our passengers."

The Patriot Express has operated biweekly on a Boeing 747 since early July. But with the return of flights each week, Northwest is bringing back its Airbus 330.

While the 747 features about 100 more seats — roughly 400 — the prospects for space-available opportunities could actually get a boost when the weekly route resumes.

However, priority still goes to so-called "paying" passengers, those on permanent-change-of-station or temporary-duty orders.

According to the Defense Transportation Regulations, the Air Mobility Command is the first option for people on PCS or TDY orders.

Making the flight "revenue-neutral" for TRANSCOM is a necessary stipulation in preserving a huge space-A travel benefit for the military community, U.S. Forces Japan officials say. The only charge for space-available fliers headed to Seattle is a $27.40 inspection fee, or "head tax."

Air Force Col. Eric Schnaible, a USFJ spokesman, called the Patriot Express flight "a quality-of-life issue for … military and family members."

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