YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A larger-capacity aircraft showed up over the weekend for the Patriot Express.

A DC-10 has replaced the L-1011 previously used to handle the weekly flight, which passes through Yokota every Friday and Saturday on a roundtrip mission from Seattle to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

The U.S. military’s only chartered commercial air service in the Pacific was rewarded with a bigger airplane after so-called “paying passengers” — those on permanent-change-of-station or temporary-duty orders — easily exceeded a financial benchmark set for the route.

The airliner features 310 seats, almost 30 more than the L-1011 had.

Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Harris, the current operations branch chief for U.S. Forces Japan’s logistics directorate, said the upgrade is a direct result of the money the flight generated in the past year.

“It’s a pretty big deal having the ridership be what it is again to make it a flight that operates in the black, so to speak,” he said. “It’s not losing money. This is an indication of that success.”

A year ago, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Misawa Air Base lost the Patriot Express after a cost-recovery goal wasn’t met in Japan.

Harris said there hasn’t been any discussion about bringing it back, adding those base populations simply can’t support the numbers needed to “at least break even.”

That hasn’t been a problem on Okinawa the last two years.

With military leaders placing renewed emphasis on filling Patriot Express flights, the Seattle-Kadena flight averaged enough duty passengers to account for 118 percent of cost recovery from October 2006 through August, far exceeding business goals, according to Harris.

It made $20.4 million in revenue and surpassed operating costs by more than $3 million.

The duty-passenger count 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, Harris said.

The only charge for space-A fliers headed to the United States is a $27.10 transportation fee, or international “head tax.”

The larger aircraft figures to boost prospects for space-A hopefuls.

However, the amount of pet spaces will remain the same at 12, Air Mobility Command officials said.

“We see Patriot Express as a big quality-of-life issue for the folks out here,” Harris said. “From the looks of these numbers, it’s going to be here for a long time. … If we can keep making money on this flight, other improvements yet to be named could follow.”

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