Houston leaders optimistic about Robins turnaround

wcrenshaw@macon.comMarch 6, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- Houston County leaders expressed confidence that Robins Air Force Base will turn around its lagging on-time delivery rate before the next Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Congress has been asked to approve a BRAC for 2017, which gives time for the base to get back on track. Figures released by the Air Force Sustainment Center this week showed Robins was finishing 48 percent of its aircraft on time, well under the target rate of 95 percent.

The other two depots at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City and Hill Air Force Base in Utah were doing substantially better. Tinker had a perfect record, and Hill was at 91 percent.

Centerville Mayor John Harley, an Air Force retiree who once worked at Robins, said he would be “extremely worried” if the rate doesn’t improve before a BRAC comes.

If Robins were to close, the blow would be huge. The base’s economic impact on the state was nearly $2.9 billion in fiscal 2012, the latest year available.

But Harley said he is confident on-time delivery rates will turn around.

“I feel like the people out there, they can get it together,” he said. “They can make it work.”

Harley said he knows from his firsthand experience working at the base that factors beyond anyone’s control at Robins can play into whether a plane gets finished on time. He questioned whether the difference might lie in the age of the aircraft and the availability of the parts.

Eric Langston, secretary of the union at Robins, works as a planner in the F-15 area, and he said parts are a major issue.

“I know for sure at Robins, we have a very hard time getting parts,” he said.

He also said Robins workers need to have greater control over production decisions.

“Anyone in the Robins community will tell you that we have the greatest workers in the nation,” Langston said. “If you give them the tools, resources, training, trust and voice required for the 21st century, there is no doubt Robins will outperform any competitor.”

About 7,600 people work in the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, which does overhaul maintenance on the C-130, C-17, C-5 and F-15.

Base leadership said part of the drop-off in productivity was due to losing more than 700 employees in the past two years through voluntary buyouts. Those were some of the most experienced workers on base, and their replacements are still learning those jobs.

The base has already shown that it can make a sharp turnaround in a short period of time. When Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon took charge of what was then called the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in 2010, it had 47 percent on-time delivery. When he left less than two years later, that had gone up to 98 percent.

Under the Air Force Materiel Command reorganization, the center that McMahon commanded became the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, headed by Brig. Gen. Cedric George.

“I think Gen. George would be the first one to tell you that ultimately the performance of the complex is his responsibility, but I think the issues are more complex than that,” said McMahon, now president of the 21st Century Partnership.

Last week, McMahon and other local leaders went to Washington and met with Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff. While the due-date performance at Robins was discussed in that meeting, McMahon said overall he was pleased with what Welsh had to say about the value of Robins. Welsh also reaffirmed the Air Force’s commitment to keeping three depots.

“From our visit in Washington last week, I am greatly encouraged about the future of Robins Air Force Base and its potential in the future as long as we solve two issues: the productivity issues and union/management relations.”

Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker was also in on the meeting with Welsh, and he said he came away feeling better about the future of the base. But he said the on-time delivery rate needs to be addressed.

“I think any time you get an evaluation and there is that much difference in the top and the bottom, it’s a concern,” he said. “I have a high level of confidence the employees on Robins Air Force Base from top to bottom will respond in an appropriate manner.”

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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