Europa — Air Mobility Command Adapts to Volcanic Ash Plume

WASHINGTON — The Air Force’s Air Mobil­i­ty Com­mand has been able to con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing air­lift capa­bil­i­ties despite the cloud of ash from an Ice­landic vol­cano that has trou­bled air trav­el, a senior offi­cer respon­si­ble for mov­ing mil­i­tary per­son­nel and equip­ment around the world said yes­ter­day.

“As soon as we saw the poten­tial impact from the vol­canic ash cloud form­ing, we ini­ti­at­ed some dis­cus­sion about pos­si­ble con­se­quences and cours­es of action,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Randy Kee, vice com­man­der of the 618th Tanker Air­lift Con­trol Cen­ter at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., said dur­ing a “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table.

“This plan­ning turned into real­i­ty in a mat­ter of a cou­ple of hours,” he added.

Kee added that since rerout­ing of air traf­fic became nec­es­sary, the com­mand has flown enough peo­ple to fill Madi­son Square Gar­den, and the equiv­a­lent of 175 ful­ly loaded semi trucks of car­go.

“It’s very impres­sive to see how folks were able to repo­si­tion,” Kee said. “All the peo­ple that made this hap­pen are heroes to me. This shows some agili­ty that is excep­tion­al. It’s an hon­or to serve in this great cause.”

The con­trol cen­ter pro­vides cen­tral­ized glob­al com­mand and con­trol of both Air Force and com­mer­cial con­tract air­craft that ful­fill the nation’s mil­i­tary air­lift require­ments. This involves plan­ning, sched­ul­ing and track­ing air­lift, air refu­el­ing and aeromed­ical evac­u­a­tion mis­sions, and then task­ing those mis­sions to units and pro­vid­ing com­mand and con­trol.

Mis­sions the cen­ter over­sees, Kee said, range from deliv­er­ing mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed vehi­cles, trans­port­ing warfight­ers and pro­vid­ing human­i­tar­i­an aid in the wake of dis­as­ter.

Since the erup­tion of Iceland’s Eyjaf­jal­la­jokull vol­cano April 16, near­ly 400 air­lift mis­sions con­trolled by the cen­ter have been rerout­ed due to the ash cloud that closed much of the air­space over Europe.

“In the wake of dis­as­ter, the team has the abil­i­ty to reroute or can­cel flights to ensure the safe­ty of pas­sen­gers and car­go the planes are car­ry­ing,” Kee said. Because vol­canic ash is eas­i­ly ingest­ed by engines and can cause them to fail, he explained, pilots don’t fly through ash clouds.

In the ear­ly moments of the erup­tion, the Tanker Air­lift Con­trol Cen­ter took action to move air­craft, crews and main­te­nance per­son­nel from Ram­stein and Spang­dahlem air bases in Ger­many to stag­ing loca­tions in Spain. This flex­i­bil­i­ty, Kee said, has allowed those assets to remain in the rota­tion of air­craft mov­ing troops and car­go to sup­port oper­a­tions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The vol­canic ash plume also forced a change in stan­dard aeromed­ical evac­u­a­tion oper­a­tions, includ­ing the flight rout­ing that Air Mobil­i­ty Com­mand uses to move wound­ed war­riors from the U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand area to fur­ther care.

“Under nor­mal cir­cum­stances, the major­i­ty of mil­i­tary patients evac­u­at­ed from Iraq and Afghanistan move to Land­stuhl Region­al Med­ical Cen­ter [in Ger­many] for care,” the gen­er­al said. “Cur­rent­ly, mis­sions are fly­ing to Naval Air Sta­tion Rota [in Spain], where they refu­el and then bring the patients back to the Unit­ed States for care.”

When flight routes will go back to nor­mal, he added, depends on the vol­cano. Offi­cials at the con­trol cen­ter are assess­ing day by day, he said, and don’t plan to return to nor­mal routes until they can do so per­ma­nent­ly.

“We are watch­ing this care­ful­ly,” Kee said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)