Aircraft maintenance work backlogged

A backlog of aircraft maintenance work has accumulated at the Air Force’s maintenance installations, a product of the frequent overseas deployments, a spokesman acknowledged Monday.

“The Air Logistics centers do have more work than originally planned — predominantly in the Airframe and Engine commodities,” wrote Air Force spokesman Gary T. Strasburg in an e-mail.

The Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base is one of the three Air Force maintenance depot installations. The others are Hill Air Force Base near Ogden, Utah, and Tinker Air Force base near Oklahoma City, Okla.

Robins officials contacted through the base public affairs office had no comment on the backlog as of Tuesday afternoon.

Highlighting the urgency of the backlog, the Air Force recently submitted an unfunded priority request to Congress, asking for $337 million in additional funds for maintenance operations.

The military services regularly submit unfunded priority requests — also commonly known as “wish lists” — for programs and operations not funded by the baseline defense budget. The unfunded priority requests are often used by the military to go around the White House’s proposed budget to request billions of dollars in appropriated funds from Congress. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently and forcibly pared down the practice.

The 2011 unfunded priority request includes funds for maintenance operations on four A-10 ground attack aircraft and six C-5 cargo aircraft, two of the most frequently deployed aircraft in the Air Force’s fleet.

The $337 million request to help fund the maintenance work was listed as the Air Force’s top unfunded priority, asking for nearly five times the amount of money as the Air Force’s second most pressing unfunded program.

Earlier this month, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., pressed the Air Force’s No. 2 general, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Carrol H. Chandler, on the request from his chair on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I understand that your Air Logistics Centers have a backlog of work and have been challenged to deliver aircraft on schedule back to warfighters, due in part to aircraft coming into the depots requiring more work than they have previously had based on the near continuous use,” Chambliss told Chandler.

Chandler confirmed Chambliss’ information.

The $337 million request has not yet been approved by Congress.

Robins recently launched a massive hiring push. Last month, the 402nd Maintenance Wing announced that it would hire up to 500 new employees within six to eight months. The other two Air Logistic Centers also are hiring employees to help deal with the backlog, Strasburg said.

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.