Each morning at Fairchild Air Force Base, an operations squadron prepares the day’s flight schedule.
It runs 30 pages and lists where the base’s aircraft are headed or which are undergoing repairs. About 200 copies are delivered around the base.
That means 6,000 sheets of paper used each day just to keep track of the base’s 57 fuel tankers.
That practice and dozens of others by the base’s nearly 5,000 employees consume about 6 million sheets of paper at the base each year.
Even though much of it is recycled, enough paper from the base is consumed annually to fill the floor of the new Spokane Arena a foot deep.
Like companies around the country, the base has begun using e-mail to cut down on paper usage.
The next big step in reducing the paper mountain there is the electronic data interchange - a way for businesses and organizations to exchange large and complex information through computers.
The Air Force and the federal government hope to use EDI as its chief paper eliminator.
“The future is here and we don’t have a choice of doing or not doing this,” said Ted Sweet, Fairchild’s contract officer.
“We’re being downsized and don’t have the work force to do things the old way. We have to switch over,” said Sweet.
Fairchild staff are just now switching into the EDI mode this month.
With no solid guidelines on where reductions will be made, Fairchild officials are cautious about predicting what EDI will do.
One goal is to have 75 percent of all contract purchases managed and paid through EDI in five years, said Sweet.
That could reduce the use of paper at the air base 20 to 40 percent.
The big targets are the thousands of contracts that the air base needs every year - involving everything from remodeling work to deliveries of food supplies.
Fairchild’s challenge is difficult, because firms doing business with the Air Force also must make the switch to compatible EDI software for the exchanges to take place.
Many Spokane-area businesses are moving toward EDI for faster delivery, quicker customer service and elimination of unneeded postage and paperwork.
The leading users of electronic commerce here are medical companies and hospitals that ship lab results, data and even X-rays from one site to another without paper, said Jim Lynch, a coordinator at the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute. SIRTI is helping area businesses develop plans to use electronic commerce.
Nationwide, a major EDI user is Wal-Mart, which has all its stores send daily sales summaries by satellite to its head office in Arkansas.
From there, the data is electronically routed to product suppliers who keep track of how many items were sold in a given week at all the stores.
“The whole job of tracking inventory has been transferred to their suppliers,” said Lynch.
At Fairchild, officials say they cannot predict the ultimate savings through EDI because of the nature of the military.
“We’re not like a business in the private sector. In the long run, we can only do what Congress wants us to do,” said Col. Jim Able, director of communications for the 92th Air Refueling Wing at the base.
The transition also is in the early phase: “We are still dealing with things like how to resolve the 17 different ways the Air Force has for putting dates on documents,” said Able, who’s responsible for computer system operations at the air base.
“But we’re getting smarter. I’m optimistic good things will come out of this,” he said.