Defense Transportation:

Air Mobility Command Needs to Collect and Analyze Better Data to Assess Aircraft Utilization

GAO-05-819: Published: Sep 29, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2005.

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Airlift is a flexible, but expensive, transportation method. From September 2001 to April 2005, the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent about $9.5 billion using airlift to transport equipment, supplies, and troops for Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF). As of December 2004, airlift accounted for about 13 percent of all cargo and passengers transported for these operations. DOD has stated that high demand for available airlift assets requires the department to use airlift assets as efficiently as possible. However, DOD's primary objective emphasizes delivering "the right items to the right place at the right time" over using aircraft capacity as efficiently as possible. Under the Comptroller General's authority, GAO sought to determine whether DOD used capacity on strategic military aircraft transporting cargo and passengers between the United States and overseas theaters for OEF and OIF as efficiently as possible.

Because the Air Mobility Command (AMC), which is the Air Force agency responsible for managing airlift, does not systematically collect and analyze operational factors that impact payloads on individual missions, DOD does not know how often it met its secondary goal to use aircraft capacity as efficiently as possible. AMC collects data about short tons transported and information about operational factors, such as weather and runway length, when planning and executing airlift missions. AMC does not capture data about these variables in a manner that allows officials to determine historically whether aircraft capacity was used efficiently. Historical mission planning files and the Global Air Transportation Execution System that is used to track mission data could provide some information about operational factors that affect mission payloads, but limitations associated with these data sources do not allow officials to determine whether DOD used aircraft capacity as efficiently as possible. In the absence of data about operational factors that impact payloads on specific missions, GAO calculated the average payloads for each type of strategic aircraft and compared these to historical average payloads, known as payload planning factors. GAO found that over 97 percent of C-5 missions and more than 81 percent of C-17 missions carried payloads below DOD's payload planning factors. However, because data on operational factors that impact payloads were not available, GAO was not able to determine whether these payloads indicate efficient use of aircraft capacity. Without adequate information about operational variables and how these impact mission payloads, AMC officials do not know the extent to which opportunities exist to use aircraft more efficiently and whether operational tempo, cost, and wear and tear on aircraft could be reduced. In addition, DOD officials do not have the benefit of such analysis to determine future airlift requirements for planning purposes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Logistics and Material Readiness) concurred with the recommendation. However, based on management comments to the report, DOD believes systems and procedures are already in place to address the recommendations contained in the report. As a result, DOD has not taken additional action. We disagree that systems are in place to provide the level of information we think would be useful for management to have access to.

    Recommendation: To help officials determine whether they used an aircraft's capacity as efficiently as possible and improve the reliability and completeness of data on operational factors that can impact payloads, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to direct the Commander, Air Mobility Command, to revise and clarify relevant data fields in the Global Air Transportation Execution System, and work with DOD entities that support other transportation information systems, such as the Global Transportation Network and service deployment systems, to capture comprehensive, well-defined data on operational factors that impact payloads for individual missions, and require supervisors to review these data fields for accuracy. These factors include--but are not limited to--number of pallet positions used, cargo dimensions, fueling decisions, and altitude constraints.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The DUSD(Logistics and Materiel Readiness) concurred with the recommendation. However, based on management comments to the report, DOD believes systems and procedures are already in place to address the recommendations contained in the report. As a result, DOD has not taken additional action. We disagree that systems are in place to provide the level of information we think would be useful for management to have access to.

    Recommendation: To help officials determine whether they used an aircraft's capacity as efficiently as possible and improve the reliability and completeness of data on operational factors that can impact payloads, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to direct the Commander, Air Mobility Command, to systematically collect and analyze information on operational factors that impact payloads transported on strategic airlift missions to identify ways that DOD may be able to use an aircraft's capacity as efficiently as possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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