Federal budget sequester will result in cuts in Air Force flight hours at Scott

News-DemocratApril 22, 2013 


A sign welcomes visitors through the Belleville Gate entrance at Scott Air Force Base.


— Chalk up another victim of the federal budget sequester: the access of congressional leaders' and other government VIPs to military passenger jets for official trips.

The budget cuts caused by the sequester's across-the-board cuts have forced the Air Force's 932nd Airlift Wing to cut flight hours for the four C-30 jets -- the military version of the Boeing 737 airliner -- based at Scott.

The wing's two component squadrons -- the 73rd Airlift Squadron, a reserve unit, and the 54th Airlift Squadron -- have experienced cuts of 10 percent and 52 percent, respectively, in flight hours until September, said Col. Al Lupenski, the wing commander.

The reserve unit's flight hours will be cut to 1,450 from the 1,600 hours originally budgeted for the year, while the active duty unit's hours will be cut to 421 from 875 hours, Lupenski said.

As a result, the units will combine flight hours to give the nine-member air crews -- three pilots, four attendants and two crew chiefs -- sufficient training time, Lupenski said.

Lupenski predicted the wing will weather the storm of reduced flight hours, but added a "bump in the road" might occur toward the end of the fiscal year, "depending on how many operations missions we get tasked for in August and September," he said.

The majority of the 932nd's passengers are congressional delegations and senior military and administration staff headed overseas. The Scott web page lists C-40 passengers as "the First Lady, Speaker of the House, Air Force Chief of Staff, Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command commanders, as well as congressional leaders and their delegations."

Meanwhile, the 375th Air Mobility Wing has cut by up to 40 percent the flight hours of the 18 C-21 passenger jets based at Scott and three other domestic air bases, according to Karen Pettit, the wing spokeswoman.

The C-21 is the military version of the Lear Jet 35A business jet. Eight of them are based at Scott for training purposes.

At the start of the budget year, about 8,000 flight hours were budgeted for the wing's 18 C-21's. Because of the sequester, the total flight hours have been cut to between 5,000 and 6,000 hours, according to Pettit.

In contrast to active duty units at Scott, the 126th Air National Guard Air Refueling Wing will not see a reduction in training flight hours for the eight KC-135 air tankers under its command, according to Col. Pete Nezamis, the wing commander.

The U.S. Congress in March restored the wing's flight hours because of the Air Force's reliance on the air tankers for operational readiness, Nezamis said.

Although the wing won't see cuts in flight hours, its aircraft still will not perform flyovers at public events because of fiscal constraints caused by the sequester.

"Anything that we do is readiness. It has readiness attached to it," Nezamis said. "So whatever we do for flying or training equates to readiness. And that's at the direction of Congress -- do what you need to do to be that critical reachback for our nation and keep your people ready as you traditionally do. That's why the flying hours were restored. It equates to readiness."

The deep cuts in flight hours for Scott-based active duty aircraft mirror the reductions taking place Air Force-wide because of the sequester -- an across-the-board series of budget cuts that took effect March 1 and mandates about $85 billion cuts in federal discretionary spending.

About $41 billion of those reductions will come from reduced spending in the Defense Department's current year budget.

Earlier this month a top Air Force general announced that one-third of the Air Force's active-duty force of fighters and bombers will be grounded because of the sequester.

Excluded from the cuts will be units either preparing to deploy to war zones or flying over them already, such as the skies above Iraq and Afghanistan.

The sequester has forced the Air Force to cut about 44,000 flight hours until September, the Air Force Times recently reported.

Those flight reductions will save the Air Force nearly $600 million, according to a memo from Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, the Air Combat Command's operations director, the Air Force Times reported.

But the big cuts carry a big danger, according to Air Force Gen. Mike Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.

The cuts mean that "we're accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur," Hostage told the media.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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