Civil Air Patrol Breaks 105,000-Hour Fight-Time Mark
By Jennifer S. Kornegay
As its very name indicates, flying forms the foundation of Civil Air Patrol. Yet the time that members actually spend aloft can vary from one year to the next.
A variety of factors affect flying time, but in fiscal year 2016 the organization reached a milestone accomplishment when it hit a lofty goal by racking up more than 105,000 flying hours with its fleet of planes – the most CAP has flown in any year since 2010.
John Desmarais, CAP’s director of operations, said that total represents a 7 percent jump from the previous year’s flying hours. Part of the increase can be credited to a spike in natural disaster relief missions, as well as an uptick in the training flights needed to conduct such missions.
“Disaster relief flights account for 850 more hours this year than last,” Desmarais said. “And we’ve done really well in getting the word out about what we can offer in terms of that, so there was more demand.”
And while the many disaster relief missions actually took away from training hours, that category of flights still rose 2.8 percent over the previous year.
The high number also reflects some intense and detailed planning work done by CAP’s operations directorate and its National Operations Center, known as the NOC.
“We’ve done a better job at planning our resources for the fiscal year and working with our funding, being flexible and juggling things to get the most out of our funds,” Desmarais said.
Col. David E. Crawford, the Middle East Region’s director of operations, echoed Desmarais.
“Part of it is a sign of budget stabilization,” Crawford said. “For several years, at the beginning of the fiscal year, we were under a continuing resolution, so we got money at several times of year. We were fully funded this year at the start of the year, and our flying hours show how budget stability has positively affected our planning and therefore our readiness.”
While Crawford emphasized the importance of funding stability, he stressed the need for proper planning on top of it. “Planning is key,” he said. “The better your plan, and the better you can execute, the more effective you can be.”
On that note, he praised CAP’s leadership. “We have good leadership coming from top down, from National Headquarters and from our wing commanders,” he said.
CAP did more work with the U.S. Air Force last year, which Desmarais and his team made a top priority.
“We worked really hard with the Air Force on homeland security missions and made a concerted effort across the board to get the word out about our capabilities and show them what we can do,” he said.
“[It means] we are getting maximum utility out of our aircraft.”
Outside CAP, achievement of the flight hours goal sends an impressive message, as Desmarais explained.
“Hitting this goal proves we can do what we say we are going to do and that we can manage the funds we are provided to effectively execute missions,” he said.
And while exceeding 100,000 hours makes for a great headline, it’s more than that. The accomplishment paints a clear – and positive – picture of CAP’s internal operations. “We are getting maximum utility out of our aircraft,” Desmarais said.
Crawford agreed. “For me, it’s not even about the number of hours. It is about the effective use of our planes and those hours.”
And some wings truly excelled at efficiency, like the North Carolina Wing, which had the highest average use per aircraft among CAP’s 52 wings for fiscal 2016.
“Wings like North Carolina are successful because they put the same emphasis on all of their missions,” said Crawford, former commander of the wing. “They are also very good at managing their budget and get more flying hours for their flying dollar.”
In the end, the biggest benefit of more flying is one that affects everyone involved – both CAP pilots and those they serve on various missions.
“This high number translates into an increase in proficiency and capability,” Crawford said. “Pilots are safer because they are flying more. They are better at flying in the ways we need them to for SAR, emergency services and other missions because they have more practice.”
He pointed to the response in the wake of Hurricane Matthew this fall. “There were pilots from 12 wings that flew a lot a lot in support of that, and their skills were demonstrably higher because they had flown so much in fiscal year 2016,” he said.
With CAP’s planes getting so much use, it’s imperative that they’re maintained. Indeed, they’re well cared for, Crawford said.
“CAP is flying the best planes money can buy right now, and we have moved to consolidated maintenance process that is much more efficient; the amount of time a plane is down is reduced.”
In the end, it’s not the number that really matters; it’s what the number says about the current state of CAP.
“This 105,000 number is not magic,” Crawford said. “It’s indicative of a healthy program organization-wide and evidence of our effective utilization of the resources we have with many contributing factors: fleet modernization, funding stability, emphasis on mission flying, proficiency opportunities, recruiting and keeping pilots, maintenance structure.
“They all came together.”