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Space-A Flights to Change Through Europe
Stars and Stripes | Kent Harris | March 26, 2007

Changes are on the way for the thousands of servicemembers, families and military retirees who use space-available travel in and out of Europe.

New eligibility standards, the elimination of one route and changes to several others are all scheduled in the next seven months, according to the Air Mobility Command, which manages the Air Force’s massive cargo and passenger airlift operations.

“There is a demand,” said Cindy Rothenbach, who manages the Patriot Express program at the Air Mobility Command. “We are moving a lot of Space-A.”

And thanks to demand, a regulation change in June should make it easier for families to travel without their military sponsors, she said. Currently, families are allowed to use available seats to travel on the planes, but generally need to do so with the military member present. Some also have been able to travel at a lower priority and others based in Europe were able to do so under a waiver requested by the U.S. European Command. That waiver has come under dispute, though.

Rothenbach said a change to DOD regulations is coming, though, that will allow eligible military dependents to travel as long as they have a letter from the servicemember approving it.

“This is a good quality- of-life issue,” she said.

So far this year, Rothenbach said, more than 11,000 passengers have traveled Space-A in, out or through Europe. In all of 2006, that number was around 31,000.

Just where they will be able to travel changes somewhat beginning Oct. 1, though. The Patriot Express currently operates eight weekly routes that pass through Europe. All but one of them fly on to countries that the military refers to as “Southwest Asia” before returning back through Europe to the States.

That one other route — originating in Baltimore, with stops at Lajes Field in the Azores and Aviano Air Base in Italy — is disappearing at the beginning of the new fiscal year.

But Aviano has been added to a route that connects Baltimore with Ramstein and Al Udeid, Qatar. And Lajes has been added to three other routes and will join Ramstein as the most visited spot in Europe.

Stops in Rota, Spain, and Souda Bay, Crete, have been eliminated, though.

In an e-mail, Tony Joyner, an AMC public affairs officer, said Aviano, Lajes, Sigonella, Naples, Souda Bay and Rota all were scheduled to lose stops in fiscal 2008. But a survey of use by duty passengers convinced the command to retain most of those stops.

The Patriot Express’ main mission is ferrying those duty passengers. Space-A travel is limited to seats left after duty passengers have boarded and isn’t offered to Turkey or any of the forward-deployed locations in combat zones. The Patriot Express uses commercial jets leased by the Department of Defense. Space-A travel also is available on some military cargo planes, but such routes aren’t scheduled with the same regularity.

For more information on Space-A travel, visit the AMC Web site at www.amc.af.mil. Click on “Questions” then click on “Space Available Travel” to download a 14-page document that contains general information, eligibility rules and contacts.

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