ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. — Like the family automobile, aircraft break.
Unlike that SUV many have worked on, the Air Force cannot go out to a local auto parts store and grab a hydraulic booster pump or radar off the shelf for a quick, budget-stretching fix.
The 402nd Maintenance Wing, stationed at Robins Air Force Base, orders roughly 25,000 parts a month to repair the C-5, C-17, C-130 and F-15 aircraft worked on at the base. However, the parts don’t always get to Robins in a timely manner, according to records and Air Force officials. Some key avionics, electronics and radar parts are stacked up on waiting lists for as long as six months, according to answers provided by 402nd, Robins and Air Force officials to a series of e-mailed questions from The Telegraph.
Spare parts buys are planned anywhere from 12 to 24 months in advance, officials said, but there are always delays.
“There are multiple reasons that cause part delays in support of workloads for the 402d Maintenance Wing. Aircraft parts for Department of Defense, or DoD,” officials answered regarding the spare parts delays. “Weapon systems are not routinely available as off the shelf buys, but must instead be forecasted, ordered, and (or) undergo a solicitation and bid process that can take several weeks to months based on the complexity of the part, and then be scheduled for manufacturing before the item is available to support aircraft requirements.”
One reason for the delays is manufacturing schedules. Some parts are special, such as those made with expensive or rare materials. Another issue is the maintenance work itself.
“The most common reason for delays is the unpredictable nature of maintenance workloads that vary from aircraft to aircraft. While many parts are stocked in advance of need, items with low or infrequent demand cannot be planned and often require long lead times to procure,” officials answered.
Robins did not identify parts that were frequently delayed, but did say electronic parts for aircraft were high on the delay list.
The delays are enough of an issue that retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard brought it up with community leaders recently, noting that some 4,000 parts are always identified as being critical but on back order up to six months.
Goddard added that parts are always an issue, but one that could impact the overall image of how Robins accomplishes one of its key missions -- depot level maintenance.
“Parts are always an issue. There’s no way around that, but what can be done better is the management of parts. Identifying the right parts in the cycle -- the ones everybody knows create an issue -- and working those into the supply chain, that’s what can improve,” Goddard told The Telegraph recently. “It’s always an issue, and it always needs management. Things now have slipped to an area where decisions have to be made by Congress to budget better for parts and to plan better for parts.
“It’s really about the money from here on out.”
Air Force officials answered that the reasons for delays vary, especially over the past two years.
However, officials did say several reorganizations -- such as the Base Realignment and Closure move of some management work to the Defense Logistics Agency, along with an Air Force-wide logistics branch and changes in squadrons at Robins proper -- have caused delays the past two years.
According to Goddard’s figures, Robins works on about 120 cargo aircraft of varying kinds each year. The stated Air Force goal is to complete work on 95 percent of those planes.
The logistics center made those goals from 2005-07, but slipped to 70 percent in 2008 and 2009.
Goddard also pointed to the transitions coming out of the 2005 BRAC, but said “it cannot all be another agency. There has to be efficiencies coming from” Robins.
Read the full story at Macon.com