Defense Ministry enlists 6 airlines to evacuate Afghanistan
The U.S. Department of Defense activated its Civilian Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) on Sunday, designed to increase military airlift in national emergencies, and is forcing six airlines to help evacuate U.S. citizens and other refugees at risk from Afghanistan.
The US Transportation Command’s order puts a total of 18 wide-body aircraft into service, including planes from two companies that primarily provide commercial all-cargo service. Atlas Air (NASDAQ: AAWW) and Air Transport Services Group (NASDAQ: ATSG) will each provide three planes for the mission, the Pentagon said.
USTRANSCOM also recruited American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) and Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) to supply three aircraft each. Hawaiian Airlines (NASDAQ: HA) will supply two planes and United Airlines (NASDAQ: UAL) will fly three jets for the evacuation.
None of the activated planes will fly to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Rather, they will take evacuees from transit bases in Qatar, Bahrain and Germany, which are becoming overcrowded, to other places in North America and Europe. The US Air Force’s C-17 and C-5 military planes provide direct air transport from Kabul.
“Activating the CRAF increases passenger movement beyond organic capabilities and allows military aircraft to focus on operations inside and outside Kabul,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. Press release.
In a statement, American Airlines said that from Monday it “will be ready to deploy three wide-body aircraft to military bases and other secure transit points in the Arabian Peninsula and Europe to assist with the evacuation. emergency response for US citizens and refugees from Kabul, Afghanistan. ”
U.S. officials have said that forcing the plane into military service is not expected to have a major impact on the carriers’ business operations. In reality, airlines still have some of their long-haul fleets in temporary storage due to the persistent decline in international travel since the start of the COVID pandemic in March 2020 and are not yet operating with full flight schedules. .
Atlas Air operates five Boeing 747-400 and five 767-300 passengers which are chartered by airlines, charter brokers, sports teams, artists and the United States military. ATSG’s subsidiary Omni Air International is an outsourced passenger transportation provider for airlines and the US government.
This is only the third time that the CRAF has come into action in 70 years and the first time that it has been primarily used to transport civilians. Commercial aircraft supported Operations Desert Shield / Storm in 1990-1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom from February 2002 to June 2003.
Under the CRAF, airlines contractually agree to complete the military air transport of troops and equipment in times of war and other crises. To encourage carriers to participate, only CRAF partners can bid on government air transport contracts issued by the DoD in peacetime. Airlines must maintain a minimum commitment of 30% of their CRAF-compatible passenger fleet and 15% of their CRAF-compatible cargo fleet to participate in international military activities.
“As a global airline and flag bearer of our country, we take responsibility for responding quickly to international challenges like this – it is a duty that we take with the greatest care and coordination as we let’s call on the expertise of several different teams within our airline to work in close partnership with the US military to execute this operation safely, ”said United CEO Scott Kirby in a post on LinkedIn . “We are especially grateful to our flight crews, technicians and support teams who are deployed at all times to staff these missions.”
A CNN report on Saturday mentioned the possibility that the government would also use express carrier FedEx (NYSE: FDX) to help with the Afghan mission.
FedEx Express, which is a long-time supplier of air transportation to the military, “stands ready to support the activation and use of CRAFs of our cargo planes and network as needed to support efforts in Afghanistan.” spokeswoman Shannon Davis said via email.
Commercial cargo airlines were earlier implicated in the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan when equipment and materiel were returned to US and NATO bases.
Click here for more FreightWaves / American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.
NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan could further restrict air cargo supply