George: Retirements were big factor in production decline

wcrenshaw@macon.comMarch 7, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- The top military leader over aircraft maintenance at Robins Air Force Base said a combination of forces drove down the on-time delivery rate of aircraft.

Brig. Gen. Cedric George, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, said the biggest factor was the loss of 900 employees in the past two years through retirement incentives. Those were some of the area’s most experienced workers, and younger people who moved into those rolls are still learning.

“That was one of the key drivers when you take that kind of loss of experience,” he said in a telephone interview Friday. “You don’t get to pick who leaves and who stays.”

Last year’s uncertainty over furloughs, with six days ultimately taken, along with the budget stalemate that led to more furloughs, wore heavily on the workforce during a time of transition following the personnel reduction.

He said he not only believes the production rate will turn around but that it will stay at a high level. Four years ago, the base had a 47 percent on-time delivery rate. Then two years ago it was at 98 percent, before dropping back to 48 percent late last year.

“I’m very confident the process discipline will turn around very quickly,” George said. “We are reactivating the Robins’ pride and reactivating what we already know how to do.”

The Air Force’s other two maintenance depots are doing much better, with Tinker Air Force Base having a perfect on-time delivery and Hill Air Force Base at 91 percent. That is causing some nervousness outside the base for those concerned about the next Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which is expected in 2017.

George said he prefers to keep the focus on Robins’ performance, not how it compares to the other two depots.

“The Air Force needs three gold medalists,” he said. “It needs three depots.”

Some have suggested the disparity may be related to the age of the aircraft maintained at Robins and the difficulty in getting parts for planes that are decades old.

George flatly rejected that suggestion. “All three depots are working on aging aircraft,” he said. “We’ve all got supply issues.”

Last year Robins sent 40 C-130 mechanics to Hill to help it get caught up on C-130 work. That may seem odd if Hill is doing better than Robins in productivity, but George said it highlights how the bases work together.

The workload shifts, he said, and at that time Robins had more C-130 mechanics than it needed, while Hill had more workload than it had mechanics.

“We are interdependent depots,” George said. “We are no longer separate.”

In this fiscal year, he said, Robins has gained C-130 workload.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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