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New Robins maintenance commander talks issues

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- Brig. Gen. Walter Lindsley, maintenance commander at the base, recently sat down with The Telegraph to discuss his first four months on the job.

Lindsley previously served at Air Force Materiel Command, the parent agency of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex. The complex is the largest unit at Robins and is responsible for overhaul maintenance and modifications on the F-15, C-17, C-130 and C-5.

Q: What are your overall impressions of the complex since you have been here?

A: When a commander takes over an organization, the first thing that you do is take inventory, so you are going to go around and assess the personnel and assess the equipment and the facilities and assess what’s been going on to date. What you are trying to gauge is the capability.

My impression of Robins and the Air Logistics Complex as a whole is that it is fully fitted, fully capable to execute the mission that it has at hand. The people from technicians to supervisors, they have purposeful, meaningful work. We have the right numbers. The facilities are very supportive for what they are designed to do here and the workload we are designed to do here. The impression is that we have everything that we need, I think, to be very successful.

Q: The on-time delivery rate for aircraft has fluctuated widely in recent years? Where is it now?

A: It is improving. You may not recognize it if you pay attention to just due date performance. For example, the (F-15 area) would look like every F-15 we produce is late. That is because we had 26 more than we were supposed to have, so they are queued up and they are accumulating what we call “queue time” or “wait time” before they get into the production machine. As they go through the production machine -- although we are given 145 days -- with actual touch time on an aircraft, we have done jets in 108 days. It still looks like because of all the queue time that it took 210 days, as an example, to do that jet. Put it another way, F-15s right now, with what management has done to work on the processes and the production machine, have gained a 60 percent increase in their speed. And C-130s have about a 35 percent increase in their (speed).

Q: What is the overall on-time delivery rate right now?

A: If you are looking at numbers, just purely numbers, C-5 is 100 percent. They are one for one. We are talking just this (fiscal year), by the way. So from October until now, C-5s had one contract and they produced one, so they are 100 percent. The F-15s, I would say would be zero because, as I said, every jet they are producing right now had queue time. But what we are trying to do with the F-15s is get all of the queue flushed out of the system so that any jet that inducts in the month of January, when you come back to talk to me in April through July time frame, produces on time.

Q: So basically, the number of days is good right now in production, it’s just a matter of getting caught up?

A: That’s exactly right.

Q: What are C-130 and C-17 production rates?

A: The C-17 averages about 45 percent, which is an improvement. But what you have to understand about C-17 is even that number is not telling. C-17 is a nose-to-tail activity and when a jet arrives you have a particular work package you are to do on it, but as it is coming in, our partner Boeing and the warfighter have additional things they would like you to do to that aircraft. So there’s a certain amount of work that you know you are going to do, programmed planned to do, and then there’s added work that comes in with that jet.

C-130s (are) about 22 or 23 percent, if you just are strictly looking at due date performance, and that has to do with the exact same reason as F-15 that has an excessive amount of (waiting aircraft) which clogged the machine up, so as they are working through it. And they are almost through, so (new planes coming in) after December should begin producing on time next year, in the June-July time frame is the expectation.

Q: So you feel like in a few months the due-date performance will be what it is supposed to be across the board?

A: I do.

Q: What are your impressions of the state of labor/management relations right now?

A: Improving. There’s not much difference between (union) President Robbie Tidwell’s priorities and my priorities. His priorities are take care of the people because they take care of the mission, and his second priority is mission execution, do our job. That’s his one and two, and mine are those in reverse. Mine are let’s execute the mission. The warfighter depends on us to execute our mission. So mission execution in the most cost-effective manner is priority one for me, and priority two is take care of, nurture and develop our workforce. So we have actually a lot of common ground. We have more pre-decisional involvement. We get together in meetings and work on shared areas of interest that we know affect the workforce. Communications has improved. President Tidwell and his team are tough, they are fair and definitely tuned in to representing the workforce.

Q: What do you believe is the best opportunity for a new mission at Robins or growth of a current mission?

A: For a new mission, the (F-35) Joint Strike Fighter is coming on board, so from an avionics perspective our maintenance group will get some avionics workload and the same could hold true when the KC-46 comes on board.

The reason why we are so interested in working the methodologies in the work area so hard is that there is more C-130 work out there that we can capture. We need to increase our speed and quality on the C-17 so as that jet ages and its stress and utilization increases the work packages, that we are capable and have the capacity to work with Boeing and take care of that fleet. The same holds true with the F-15s. We need to produce six per month, and if we can do that as that jet ages, there will be future structural requirements. ... Improving our production capability there will allow us to take on that additional workload.

Last but not least are the C-5s. As they retire C-5s and it becomes a smaller fleet, perhaps we can take on all of the heavy work and do all of the depot-level maintenance on the C-5 so that we can be the one-stop shop for all of the heavy type of maintenance for the C-5.

Q: Are there any missions here that the base could be at risk of losing?

A: I don’t see that. I would say just a simple no to that.

Q: What’s the biggest thing you would like to improve during your command?

A: I have thought a lot about this question both before I arrived and since I have been here. What I would like to improve is trust. I would like to improve trust between management and the workforce, up and down the chain and 360 degrees. Trust between units and trust between the complex and our customers, where we restore the reputation and the swagger of Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex through our performance.

Q: Do you foresee anything within the next year related to the budget that could result in furloughs, layoffs or more early retirement incentives? (Note: Congress was still debating the budget at the time of the interview.)

A: That one is hard to answer, because we see what’s going on in the news today. The Secretary of the Air Force (Deborah Lee James) was here and in her comments, she talked about this very issue. Any official who has been here speaking in any capacity with knowledge and authority knows that a repeat of the furlough would be a tragic mistake. Do I know what’s going to happen? I do not. But I have every confidence in what I’m hearing that our leaders will work through and make that a non-issue.

Q: Is there anything else you would like talk about?

A: If I could have the opportunity to write a personal note to the families of the workforce that is out here, I would just thank them so much for supporting their family members that are out here working every single day. This is technically tough work out here. It is busy. It’s important.

It has a lot of purpose, and there are a lot of sacrifices from the family supporting the team that is out here working.

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