Take a Cue from the Airlines:

Gen. Arthur Lichte, USAF’s top mobility official, said Friday he doesn’t expect his tankers and transports to be as youthful as frontline strike platforms. But it would be nice, he said, if they weren’t as old as they are and if the Air Force was able to adopt the model practiced with success by the commercial airlines to recapitalize assets at a much more frequent rate. Speaking before an audience on the final day of AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium on Feb. 22 in Orlando, Lichte pointed out, for example, that the Air Force still operates 493 Eisenhower-era KC-135 tankers, yet there are only four Boeing 707 commercial aircraft of the same ilk still in use by US airlines. These KC-135s average 47.5 years in age, making them the “oldest heavy airframes” in America, he said. Both the KC-135 and 707 designs derive from Boeing’s 1950s-era 367-80 aircraft prototype, which was dubbed the Dash 80. “I am not going to kid you and pretend tankers and airlifters … have to be as young and modern as our frontline fighters and our bombers,” Lichte said. “I am willing to accept that. But I am not sure, as you look at this scale, that it should be on the scale that it is.” Indeed, he cited the efficiencies of the commercial airlines in being able to maintain fleets of substantially less age. According to his briefing charts, the average fleet age of major US carriers is: Continental: 8.5 years; Southwest Airlines: 9 years; United: 11.7 years; Delta: 13.1 years; American: 13.3 years; UPS: 15 years; Federal Express: 16 years; and Atlas Air: 21.7 years. “We should be thinking about moving our aircraft through at a much quicker pace so that we can gain [those] efficiencies,” he said. The distressing news, he said, is that, despite their age today and the fact that the new KC-X tanker will enter the fleet by early next decade, “we plan on flying our KC-135s another 40 years,” he noted.