Small Office Does Big Job in Military Shipping
June 11, 2009
- The Army Airlift Clearance Authority is a small office that means big money for the Army.
- Its 13 members have saved the Army more than $1.6 billion in shipping costs over the last 10 years.
- "Ground is tremendously cheaper than air," Hall said. "Really, only high priority shipments should go air."
- Sometimes getting the job done means actually putting hands on shipments to find out why they're not moving in the way they should.
The Army Airlift Clearance Authority is a small office that means big money for the Army. Its 13 members have saved the Army more than $1.6 billion in shipping costs over the last 10 years.
"That's a lot of money," John Hall, TOPS deputy, said. "Most people don't know what we're doing here, that we're working with that kind of money."
The group functions as a branch of the Logistics Support Activity's Transportation, Operations, Plans and Security division. When a customer orders parts or supplies to be airlifted, the order goes through ACAA's computer system. If it meets the eligible criteria, the computer flags the order for a closer look by ACAA's Combatant Command Focus Team.
"If an order meets the criteria, it's sent to our hold box. Then our people go in the system, look at the cargo and then contact the customer," Hall said. "They call them, ask how soon they really need it and can it go ground instead."
Shipping by air isn't cheap, particularly if the order is extremely large or heavy. If the difference between air shipping and ground shipping costs are more than $5,000 it will also be routed through ACAA. They then try to determine whether those items can be sent via ground shipping instead.
"Ground is tremendously cheaper than air," Hall said. "Really, only high priority shipments should go air."
The ultimate decision whether to ship ground or air lies with the ordering customer. ACAA team members present the options to the customer along with all the relevant data. The customer then has three days to make the choice so that the order can finish.
Given the volume of orders placed, a relatively small amount is rerouted through ACAA. Approximately 7 percent of offered shipments are challenged. However, of that 7 percent that do meet the criteria, 64 percent are shipped via ground instead of the original air request. That change in cost adds up. On average, they have saved the Army $150 million each year. Last year alone the savings were well over $463 million.
The change in shipping, however, means more than money, Hall said. With limited availability of aircraft, and limited space inside each aircraft, diverting to ground frees up valuable space for the items that are urgent.
Part of keeping necessary items on the move involves tracking shipments and expediting freight, another facet of ACAA's mission. Their customer support team works to locate shipments that have not arrived by their due date and to find out why some items may sit at port once they arrive. In fact, they do it so well they are serving as the lead in a study across all four military branches that will conclude near the end of this year.
"We were chosen by all the other branches' ACAAs. They asked us to take the lead," Hall said. "We're looking at no-hit cargo - which is cargo that has arrived to the port but is frustrated there... Our people are working to find out why. In six months we'll brief all those services to let them know what the problem is and determine what the ACAAs can do about it."
Sometimes getting the job done means actually putting hands on shipments to find out why they're not moving in the way they should. In order to do that, ACAA keeps two port liaisons on the ground at both Dover Air Force Base, Del. and McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.
"They are there to fix problems," Hall said. "Any Army cargo that gets frustrated, they are there to help the Air Force fix it so it can move."
The Transportation Analysis team works constantly to evaluate new regulations and system changes for effectiveness and workflow. They also keep customers apprised of the changes to procedure and regulations for air shipments so that a paperwork problem doesn't hold things up. They track the statistics for branch operations.
It all adds up to a small, focused group of people getting a multi-faceted job done.
"We're keeping low priority cargo out of the Air Mobility Command channel system and saving the Army money," Hall said. "It's a double mission."