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The Army Airlift Clearance Authority: Speeding Supplies to the Warfighter

The Army Airlift Clearance Authority (AACA) works to improve the velocity of the supply
pipeline serving the warfighter while simultaneously saving the Army a substantial amount of money. This 13-member organization, primarily composed of Department of the Army (DA) civilians, monitors cargo offered for military air transport by units across the Army.

AACA’s goal is to employ scarce air transportation assets efficiently and effectively and spend transportation dollars prudently by shipping only the highest priority items by air. Situated at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, AACA is part of the Transportation, Operations, Plans, and Security Division of the Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA), which is a separate reporting activity under the Army Materiel Command.

Reorganizing AACA

Officially, AACA validates, challenges, and controls all Army-sponsored cargo eligible for air transportation to meet the provisions of Army Regulation (AR) 59–3, Movement of Cargo by Scheduled Military Air Transportation, and Defense Transportation Regulation 4500.9–R, Part II, Cargo Movement. AACA also validates Army cargo not related to unit moves for transport by a special assignment airlift mission (SAAM).

AACA is prepared to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With the assistance of an after-hours duty roster, automated information systems, and a staggered work schedule, the agency has been operating around the clock since the advent of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In January 2009, AACA’s deputy director, John B. Hall, Jr., restructured the organization’s efforts along new lines to better serve customers. His initiative stemmed from a previous Lean Six Sigma study. Hall commented:

I wanted to spread the workload evenly among my people. It was also important to improve our efficiency by decreasing the time it took to clear air cargo destined for the warfighter, so I assigned individuals specific responsibilities. Previously, shipments had been handled by whoever was available at the moment, with multiple tech[nician]s sometimes touching the same shipment. This process frequently created confusion and duplication of effort.

The reorganization created three distinct teams, the combatant command focused team (CCFT), the customer support team (CST), and the transportation analysis team (TAT), that work together to accomplish the mission, each with a separate area of focus.

Clearing Cargo for Air Transport

AACA’s main responsibility—clearing Army-sponsored air-eligible cargo for transport—falls to the CCFT. This team has been subdivided by geographic regions, including Iraq and Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Europe.

What cargo is eligible for air transport? According to Cindy Fugate, the TAT lead, eligible cargo includes “any item that’s air transportable and not prohibited because of its hazardous materials classification.” This rather broad definition includes, but is not limited to, most class IX (repair parts), perishable foodstuffs, medical items, sensitive or protected items, and items needed to correct safety problems.

When a requisition is ready for shipment, the re­sponsible shipping activity makes an advance submission of Department of Defense Form 1384, Transportation Control and Movement Document (referred to as an advanced transportation control and movement document [ATCMD]), and offers air-eligible cargo for air clearance if the requested delivery date justifies it. Shippers offer materiel for air clearance by entering ATCMDs into the Financial and Air Clearance Transportation System (FACTS), a Department of Defense system (used and funded by all of the services) that clears freight for air movement and helps the services manage their transportation funds.

Offers typically arrive by batch feed from other systems, such as the Defense Logistics Agency’s Distribution Standard System, or by manual entry if the shipper has access to FACTS. FACTS automatically discriminates among these offerings. Some shipments, such as most class IX items, clear for air transportation immediately. Other shipments, although offered in anticipation of using air assets for movement, receive a surface designation from FACTS; these shipments are diverted to surface ports of embarkation for onward movement to their final destinations.

An asset of FACTS is the flexibility of its system logic: The movement of items automatically cleared for air transport or diverted to surface transportation can be changed in response to current theater conditions and operating tempos through a construct known as movement authorization management rules. Shippers of consignments that are not automatically routed for air or surface movement typically enter a challenge file in FACTS. It is at this point that the AACA technicians of the CCFT become involved.

Working With Challenge File Cargo

To be placed in the FACTS challenge file, items offered for air clearance must meet certain defined criteria. For example, when the difference in the air versus ground shipping cost exceeds $5,000, FACTS marks the order for further review. Other conditions that might necessitate a review include cargo that exceeds a designated weight or volume limit set by DA or items with specific national stock numbers. In the past, items like canned air, copy paper, and bubble wrap have made their way into the challenge file.

Once in the challenge file, transportation specialists from AACA check the ATCMD in FACTS and then send an email about the shipment to a designated point of contact (POC) in theater. AACA technicians serve in an advisory capacity, asking the customer to confirm his desire to ship by air while providing possible alternatives, like splitting the shipment between air and surface assets. The theater POC has 72 hours to respond before the shipment diverts automatically; however, AACA technicians typically resolve the challenge much faster.

Jack Dodge, the CCFT lead, notes, “The efforts of the CCFT in partnership with our theater POCs have allowed us to clear 90 percent of the challenge[d] cargo within 24 hours.” Shipping by air is obviously very expensive when compared to surface movement. AACA personnel strive very hard to ensure prudent use of Army transportation funds while improving pipeline velocity to the warfighter by helping customers conserve valuable aircraft space for truly high-priority requisitions. AACA technicians assist with rerouting items of a more routine nature, such as cleaning and office supplies.

Over the years, these efforts have paid off. In the last 13 fiscal years, AACA has saved the Army over $1.6 billion in shipping costs (an average of $127.5 million dollars per year), with much of the savings accruing in fiscal year 2003 and later. With 3 months remaining in the year, cost avoidance for 2009 has reached nearly $330 million.

Despite the large savings, relatively few shipments actually require AACA involvement. In the last 10 years, slightly over 9 percent of offered shipments have found their way into the challenge file. Of these, approximately 60 percent eventually received a divert-to-surface status. This diversion to surface transport represents over 164,000 tons of cargo that might have tied up valuable air transport; that is the equivalent of over 1,900 fully loaded C–17 missions. The reduced demands on the airlift fleet mean the war­fighter has a much better chance of receiving what he needs when he needs it.

Managing Foreign Sales and SAAMs

In addition to clearing all types of cargo for movement by air, the CCFT has the added responsibilities of approving foreign military sales (FMS) shipments for air transport and validating SAAMs. FACTS challenges FMS cargo based on a set of rules established jointly with the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command (USASAC). AACA then coordinates challenged FMS shipments through the USASAC transportation team and the country case manager for the purchasing nation.

According to AR 59–9, Special Assignment Airlift Mission Requirements, SAAMs are “On-demand missions that require special pickup, airlift, and/or delivery by AMC [the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command].” Unusual conditions requiring a SAAM might involve outsized cargo (greater than 84 inches in any one dimension), especially heavy cargo, sensitive cargo, cargo requiring urgent movement, or other legitimate circumstances that rule out the use of normal airlift procedures. A SAAM requires an aircraft dedicated to a specific mission and delivery date. This is in contrast to normal-channel cargo, which is handled on a first-in, first-out basis and can be bumped by higher-priority requirements. Cargo traveling to remote locations not served by channel airlift or traveling between scheduled channel flights could typically benefit from a SAAM.

Assisting Customers

The CST works alongside the CCFT to improve the flow of materiel to the warfighter. This team re­sponds to inquiries about a shipment’s status (such as cleared for air, diverted to surface, or pending) and frequently assists shippers in correcting errors made during the entry of ATCMDs into FACTS. Such errors can unnecessarily delay cargo.

The team also works on track-and-trace requests, helping shippers and customers learn when, where, and how something shipped or even if it shipped at all. The CST lead, Pebble Price, explained the team’s goal: “Because it is so important that warfighters receive their equipment and supplies expeditiously, the customer support team’s objective is to provide assistance to shippers, assuring ATCMD data integrity and the fluid flow of Army shipments at the ports.”

Besides these duties, the CST creates and promulgates customer advisories; maintains liaisons at two aerial ports of embarkation (APOEs) (Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey); clears arms, ammunition, and explosives (AA&E) consignments for entry into ports; handles “greensheet” requests; and provides basic transportation and FACTS system support.

Although infrequent, customer advisories act as important periodic bulletins that inform shippers of new or changed policies and procedures as well as particular events or conditions that require special attention. The goal, as always, is the continued efficient and effective operation of the transportation system.

In line with this goal, the CST lead also manages two port assistance liaisons (PALs), one at Dover
and another at McGuire. The PALs are individual mobilization augmentees who serve as “boots on the ground” at these APOEs. They expedite and trace Army cargo, divert cargo with the concurrence of the CCFT, correct documentation errors, aid all services with special exercises, and generally assist the APOEs’ customer service personnel when problems arise with Army shipments.

An important aspect of the PALs’ work is dealing with frustrated freight. Cargo arriving at an APOE unplanned, unannounced, or without the necessary and correct documentation becomes frustrated. It is part of the PALs’ job to research the frustrated items, contact the shipper, generate the necessary documentation, and enter that documentation into FACTS so the materiel can flow to the warfighter.

Expediting High-Priority Cargo

The CST and the PALs also shepherd Army cargo that has been “greensheeted.” Greensheeting cargo allows a specifically identified shipment to gain movement precedence over other Army cargo, including cargo with a required delivery date of 999 (highest priority). Typically, greensheets are used only in sporadic instances, such as when a surge of shipments creates a backlog at one of the APOEs.

A greensheet action can originate with the warfighter or with the shipper. In either case, AACA works to validate the requirement with the designated theater POC before expediting the cargo in question. When an item is expedited in this manner, its movement takes precedence over other Army shipments only; shipments sponsored by the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force are not affected. Greensheets must be submitted in writing for cargo already entered into FACTS and require the signature of an official who is a lieutenant colonel or above on the military side or a GS–14 or above on the civilian.

Another important job handled by the CST in­volves clearing AA&E shipments. The amount of explosives each APOE may hold at one time is limited to a total known as the “net explosive weight” (NEW). For this reason, AA&E shipments must be coordinated with the APOE before they may be released for delivery. Explosives shipments must be entered into FACTS, where they are placed into a hold status while AACA technicians work through a multistep process to obtain a clearance number and delivery date. In general, AACA serves as a liaison between the APOEs and the shipper, helping to ensure that the APOEs do not inadvertently exceed their maximum allowable NEW.

The CST provides direct support to shippers and the warfighter when they have questions regarding FACTS or the air clearance process in general. The CST also functions as a gatekeeper for all Army users seeking access to FACTS. The team endorses a shipper’s need to add FACTS capability to its office and forwards its request to the FACTS Program Management Office in Norfolk, Virginia.

Conducting Transportation Analyses

The third and final team in AACA’s lineup is the TAT. Before AACA’s reorganization in January 2009, transportation analysis was performed on an ad hoc basis when time and conditions allowed. However, John Hall wanted a dedicated analysis team because of the strong demand for analyses and his desire to develop metrics for AACA. As he observed, “Organizing the transportation analysis team enabled the AACA leadership to make sound decisions based on factual data. The TAT has become a valuable source for analytical transportation information and is sought after by LOGSA personnel as well as major commands and headquarters staffs.”

As its name implies, the TAT investigates and evaluates transportation data to solve specific problems, with the aim of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of operations involving Army cargo. One of its first tasks was serving as the lead for a joint study focused on reducing the amount of “no hit” cargo that arrives at the APOEs. [No hit cargo is cargo that is stalled because it cannot be matched to a record within automated systems.]

When the transportation system operates as designed, shippers offer their cargo for air clearance by entering an ATCMD into FACTS. Once cleared for air movement, FACTS advances the ATCMD into the Global Air Transportation and Execution System (GATES), an Air Force system used by the APOEs for cargo management. When cargo arrives at the APOE, GATES requires that it be checked into the system in preparation for its onward movement to the warfighter.

Shipments that arrive at a port without an ATCMD showing in GATES cannot be checked in immediately and become, at least temporarily, no hits. With no ATCMD advanced from FACTS to GATES, APOEs have to process the shipment manually. While there could be a variety of reasons for this, the result is the same: no hits disrupt the aerial pipeline, causing delays and generating additional labor to process the cargo.

The aerial no hit working integrated product team hopes to identify actions that each service’s air clearance authority can take within its respective command and control to reduce or eliminate the incidences of no hits. The study is ongoing, and its results will be presented in the next fiscal year.

Part of the TAT’s job description includes reviewing changes to policies and procedures to assess their impact on transportation and gauge the feasibility of new transportation principles, concepts, and practices. Recently, personnel from the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) J–4 visited AACA in Huntsville to collaborate on a proof-of-principle concept for an air clearance authority in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

Since the Army ships the largest amount of cargo to the theater, CENTCOM wanted the Army’s assistance in developing a model for a theater air clearance authority that could provide many of the same benefits that continental United States (CONUS) air clearance authorities provide. CENTCOM also hoped to gain oversight over retrograde shipments returning to CONUS. The TAT assisted in developing a baseline plan suitable for a 90-day test period, and the plan is currently being reviewed by theater personnel.

Developing Metrics for AACA

Besides serving as lead on the aerial no hit working integrated product team and partnering with CENTCOM on a theater air clearance authority, the TAT has worked since its inception to create meaningful metrics for AACA and its teams. Of particular interest are the shipments automatically relegated to the challenge file by FACTS system logic. The TAT keeps track of the number of challenges recorded by FACTS each month and further classifies them by geographic region, port of embarkation, port of debarkation, ultimate mode of travel (air or surface), and what commodities (by weight) represented the most challenges. This type of analysis keeps the CCFT aware of each region’s workload and helps it spot trends and patterns.

In analyzing workload, the TAT tracks the number of explosives shipments sent to various ports each month. The TAT also keeps tabs on the numbers and types of errors generated by ATCMDs entered into FACTS. When errors originate from system-to-system data feeds, it usually indicates a systemic disconnect. Analyzing and sharing this information with the CST can often yield proposals for subsequent system changes. Finally, the TAT tracks use of the movement authorization management rules. Rules used too often or never at all might require fine-tuning to optimize the effectiveness of their impact on materiel flow.

Questions for AACA?

For answers on FACTS access, tracking cargo, explosive shipments, or ATCMD corrections: Contact the Customer Support Team at (256) 9559756, 9762, or 9765.

To ask questions on shipment status (air versus surface), scheduling a special assignment airlift mission, greensheeting specific cargo, or gaining theater concurrence for expedited movement: Contact the Combatant Command Focused Team at (256) 8766508, (256) 9559755 or 9559767, or (256) 3136024.

The TAT has become a welcome addition to AACA’s portfolio, helping to round out its capabilities in the transportation arena while broadening the organization’s understanding of the bigger distribution picture.

For many years, AACA has worked a double mission for the warfighter: keeping high-priority cargo moving through the pipeline while helping the Army to spend its transportation funds wisely. Despite its small size, the office has proven itself to be efficient and effective at both missions. “The AACA acts as the eyes and conscience of the Army when it pertains to regulating the flow of high-priority materiel to the theater,” observed Lieutenant Colonel Diane Richie, the chief of the Transportation, Operations, Plans, and Security Division at LOGSA. A close-knit group of dedicated personnel, AACA stands ready to support warfighters around the globe in all their transportation needs.

Shannon R. “Rob” Lauber is in the last year of an Army Materiel Command fellowship. He wrote this article while assigned to the transportation analysis team of the Army Airlift Clearance Authority at Huntsville, Alabama. He holds a B.S. degree in industrial management from Clarkson University and an M.B.A. degree from Texas A&M University-Texarkana. He is level III certified in life-cycle logistics from the Defense Acquisition University.

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