Channel Missions at the TACC: Leveraging Commercial Capabilities


An Interview with Harold Guckin

Harold Guckin during the interview, April 2011 (Credit: SLD)
Harold Guckin during the interview, April 2011 (Credit: SLD)

05/19/2011 – Over the next few weeks, we are presenting interviews with the folks who make Tanker Airlift Control Center (TACC) happen at the operational level.  Several of the pieces of the TACC puzzle come together at the command level.  But less focused upon by outsiders is the management of the pieces.  These interviews fill in some of those details.

A key element of TACC execution is its ability to leverage commercial air assets and to run the USAF variant of FEDEX.  This effort is referred to as airlift planning for channel missions.  During the roundtable, Harold Guckin led the discussion of channel missions.  The channel missions are the regularly scheduled flights that fly a fixed route and operate on a fixed schedule.


Guckin:  The XOG directorate receives TRANSCOM requirements and formulates a routing, like FedEx would do in order to service their customers in the most efficient way possible.  Most of XOG’s planning is done based on historical data. Just like FedEx doesn’t have any projection of what’s coming in their door or of what a customer’s going to ship, planning is done off assumptions from the past.

SLD: So you’re laying down your map of expectant behavior as the basis for planning?

Guckin: Yes. We lay out a basic plan. We then go into the barrel and figure out how many organic tails they can give us.  We evaluate how much outsized cargo we might have based on historic data (i.e. cargo too big to fit on a 747; items such as 20-foot pipes). We then plan the effort to augment our gray tail forces with civilian contract charters. Right now about 80% of our lift is commercial vs. organic.

SLD: You have gotten your projected demand from historic rates of need for delivery of certain categories of equipment.  You’re going in to the barrel and you are inputting your expected demand structure forecast over the next couple weeks.  I would imagine that you’d be a lower priority if a higher priority comes in, so now you’ve got to handle the slack and the complaints from theater that “I didn’t get my pipes” or whatever. So, you’re trying to manage the slack to meet your customer’s requirements.

Guckin: Correct. And sometimes commercial assets are available and sometimes they are not.  You get around Christmas time when commercial business is making more money and they don’t bid on a DoD route.

Working co-ordination on the TACC operations floor (Credit: TACC)Working co-ordination on the TACC operations floor (Credit: TACC)

SLD: How is commercial contracting handled and managed?

Guckin:  The contracting is done by TRANSCOM.  We do a fixed buy for an annual amount of tonnage of freight, projected for a year out. When they contract with us a lot of times, we will want them to do a round trip, to bring cargo over and back, but they will only bid on the cargo going one way.  They will wish to use the return trip to go to places they go to pick up commercial freight.

SLD: What’s the biggest challenge you face?  It sounds to me like managing the shortfalls in daily activity might be the issue.

Guckin: It is. The biggest challenge is meeting the unknown surges of cargo. Dealing with shortfalls on airlift that you were planning to have (i.e. the gray tails), but which you don’t get because of higher priorities or maintenance impacts. We can’t give you an airplane that we don’t have to fly.