US Air Force and Navy aircraft flying hours and availability have declined over the past two decades, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
The trend, which is more pronounced than US Department of Defense (DOD) ratings because of the way planes are counted, was heavier in the Navy, which also flown more hours per plane, said the non-partisan government agency responsible for providing economic analysis to Congress. in a recent report.
How we got here
The CBO has analyzed patterns of aircraft use and availability, or the percentage of time that the aircraft can be used for missions or for training, since 2001 in the Air Force and Navy, which includes also the Marine Corps.
The results provide a sharper picture compared to the DOD ratings, as the CBO only measured “fit-to-fly” airplanes. The DOD only measures the availability of aircraft in the possession of operational units.
“The CBO measure counts planes in maintenance or storage at the depot as unavailable,” the agency said.
While the trend lines for both services show a decline in aircraft availability and flight hours, the trends were more pronounced in the Navy due to a “sharp decline” in the availability of its fighter jets, the CBO said. Overall, Navy aircraft availability fell to 40% in 2019, from 48% reported in 2015, the CBO said. In comparison, the availability of Air Force aircraft has remained essentially stable at around 50 percent over the same period.
With regard to attack and combat aircraft, the two services were less available than in the early 2000s. However, the situation was more pronounced in the Navy, due to maintenance at the aircraft depot. older, the CBO said.
“There has been a particularly marked decline in the availability of DoN’s F / A-18C / Ds, known as legacy Hornets, caused by significant delays in passing the ‘high-flying hour inspections’, which are not just inspections but also a series of actions designed to extend the life of the Hornets, ”said the CBO.
While the CBO found that Navy fighter and attack aircraft availability rates were lower than those of the Air Force, it also noted that Navy attack aircraft, such as the F / A-18E / F, have flown more hours per year.
The availability of the Navy’s fixed-wing fleet, which is used to train pilots, has also fallen below that of the Air Force in recent years. In 2000, the Navy had an availability rate of almost 80 percent for coaches. By 2020, however, that rate had fallen to around 50 percent, the CBO said. In 2000, the Air Force coach availability rate was approximately 60%, a rate reported for service in 2020.
Aircraft availability rates for both services saw a short-term increase in 2020 at the start of the pandemic, the report notes. For the Air Force, the availability rate fell from 49% in February 2020 to 54% in two months, before returning to 49% in September of the same year. In the Navy, aircraft availability rose from 41% in February 2020 to a peak of 44% in May. By September 2020, it had fallen to 43% for the service.
“With the flight services less hours, more spare parts may have been available to complete maintenance, increasing the number of aircraft that were available,” said CBO. “Or less flying hours may have reduced the chances that the available planes had problems and needed repairs.”