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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) — The changing nature of the Air Force combined with cuts in military funding is creating a subtle change in the demands on young pilots.

Columbus Air Force Base Commander Col. Jim Sears says the base’s 3,000 employees are being asked to help the military save money and become more efficient while still turning out more than 300 pilots a year.

And the young pilots are responding to the new cost-conscious culture, just as some are having to do in their own lives. In fact, a simple suggestion from a pilot to change a small detail in airplane taxiway procedures will save $25,000 a year in fuel costs because of reduced idling.

“With the training we do and the training that is done before they come to us, it’s becoming a natural part of just being an airman, the way they are able to think about the cost-consciousness, not just in their daily lives but also at work and what they’re doing,” Sears told the Columbus Rotary Club Tuesday. “It’s really blossomed around the base in a way nobody expected, but it’s been great to see.”

One of the Air Force’s three pilot training bases, CAFB has 234 aircraft flying more than 58,000 missions a year. As many as 400 pilot trainees come through the base each year with about 325 graduating with their wings. The installation employs some 3,000 people with a $105 million annual budge, generating almost $300 million a year in economic impact on Lowndes and the six surrounding counties.

“We all must be thinking of new ways to do things with dwindling resources,” Sears said, referring to the deep budget cuts the military is likely to face in the coming years as Congress tries to reduce a trillion-dollar-a-year federal budget deficit and withdraws from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While the overall focus remains training, the base has some immediate objectives. One is a full compliance review the first week of February 2013 that will review procedures from top to bottom.

Second, work will begin in March and run through September of reworking 10,000 feet of the base’s 12,000-foot center runway. The $35 million contract to Eutaw Construction is one of several totaling $98 million in construction at the base in the next year. The runway work means the base must continue training with two runways instead of three.



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