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Alaska Editorial: Needless Grounding

Posted: April 22, 2013 - 12:03am

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

How ironic that the U.S. Air Force cannot fly its aircraft.

The Air Force has grounded F-16s at Eielson Air Force Base and several other installations across the country. So the world’s mightiest military cannot keep its pilots in top form. They will go without real flight experience until at least Oct. 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.

Even more ironic, it appears this circumstance has been created by a budgeting rule rather than a shortage of money.

In general terms, the lack of a budget deal in Congress prompted the grounding. The resulting sequestration cut the amount of money available to the Air Force.

In such circumstances, one might expect the Air Force to move some money from lower priority functions so its pilots could continue to practice.

However, because of the way the Air Force’s budget is written, it cannot do that. The sequestration action reduced the Air Combat Command’s operations and maintenance account, and the Air Force apparently is not allowed to move money into that account from elsewhere in its budget.

So Air Force pilots will fly 45,000 fewer hours between now and Oct. 1.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the Air Force has plenty of money in its procurement and research accounts to cover the shortfall in the operations account.

“The Air Force accounts are set up just a little bit differently, and they are caught in a situation where they don’t have as much flexibility to maneuver the dollars to allow for the level of training that needs to go on,” she told the News-Miner last week.

“I support allowing agencies, including the Air Force, the flexibility to implement sequestration in the least harmful way,” she said.

That’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t make sense to take the “air” out of the Air Force when other options exist.

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