An Examination of the Relationship Between Usage and Operating-and-Support Costs of U.S. Air Force Aircraft

by Eric J. Unger


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Systematically examining the empirical relationship between multiple U.S. Air Force systems' expenditures, flying hours, and fleet sizes, this research suggests a more sophisticated way to think about Air Force costs than is currently used. The report discusses prior research on cost-per-flying-hour calculations — i.e., the practice of multiplying projected flying hours by a cost-per-hour factor in certain segments of the budgetary process. This report looks across Air Force mission designs (systems) and estimates general, historical relationships between expenditure levels and flying hours. A fixed-plus-variable cost structure is estimated with expenditures neither increasing nor decreasing in proportion to flying hours. The author concludes with the policy implications of his findings, noting that current Air Force budgeting approaches likely overestimate funding needs when flying hours are increasing and underestimate needs when flying hours are decreasing.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Background and Prior Work

  • Chapter Three

    Data Overview and Estimation Approach

  • Chapter Four

    Estimation Results

  • Chapter Five

    Policy Implications

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR Force.

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