U.S. Airlines Ordered to Help Move Afghan Evacuees with Their Aircraft

August 22, 2021

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The United States Department of Defense is activating what is called the 'Civil Reserve Air Fleet' to use U.S. commercial airlines to move Afghan evacuees out of Afghanistan.

The Following is a Release from The Department of Defense:

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered the Commander of U.S. Transportation Command to activate Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). CRAF activation provides the Department of Defense access to commercial air mobility resources to augment our support to the Department of State in the evacuation of U.S. citizens and personnel, Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and other at-risk individuals from Afghanistan. The current activation is for 18 aircraft: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines. The Department does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights from this activation.
CRAF activated aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. They will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases. Activating CRAF increases passenger movement beyond organic capability and allows military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of in Kabul.
CRAF is a National Emergency Preparedness Program designed to augment the Department’s airlift capability and is a core component of USTRANSCOM’s ability to meet national security interests and contingency requirements.  Under CRAF, the commercial carriers retain their Civil Status under FAA regulations while USTRANSCOM exercises mission control via its air component, Air Mobility Command. 
This is the third CRAF activation in the history of the program. The first occurred in support of Operations Desert Shield/Storm (Aug. 1990 to May 1991), and the second was for Operation Iraqi Freedom (Feb. 2002 to June 2003).  
The DOD’s ability to project military forces is inextricably linked to commercial industry, which provides critical transportation capacity as well as global networks to meet day-to-day and contingency requirements.  Utilizing commercial partners expands USTRANSCOM’s global reach as well as access to valuable commercial intermodal transportation systems.  
The Secretary greatly appreciates the support of our industry partners in this critical mission.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said the program, established in 1951, is voluntary, and, in return, the participating carriers are given preference in carrying commercial peacetime cargo and passenger traffic for the Department of Defense.

"We've now asked through authority that the president has, airlines, to help participate in moving people not out of Kabul, but from these third country sites where we are taking them as we finish processing them, going through security checks," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told "Fox News Sunday." "We've reached agreement with about two dozen countries over four continents who are now helping or soon going to help with the transit of people out of Kabul and this is one way to make sure we have enough flight capacity to move people from those places to their ultimate destinations."

American Airlines Statement on Civil Reserve Air Fleet Stage 1 Activation

"The U.S. Department of Defense notified American Airlines that it has activated Stage 1 of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). Starting Monday, American will be ready to deploy three widebody aircraft to military bases and other secure transit points on the Arabian Peninsula and in Europe to assist with the emergency evacuation of U.S. citizens and refugees coming from Kabul, Afghanistan.

American is part of the CRAF program and is proud to fulfill its duty to help the U.S. military scale this humanitarian and diplomatic rescue mission. The images from Afghanistan are heartbreaking. The airline is proud and grateful of our pilots and flight attendants, who will be operating these trips to be a part of this life-saving effort.

American will work to minimize the impact to customers as the airline temporarily removes these aircraft from our operation. The airline appreciates customers’ patience and understanding as it works to accommodate flights."

Delta Air Lines Statement

Delta has been in contact with the DoD for several days leading up to the call for CRAF and is scheduled to have multiple relief flights arriving back in the United States beginning Monday morning. The airline will operate using available spare aircraft, meaning Delta’s commercial operations are not currently impacted.
“For decades, Delta has actively played a role in supporting the US Military and our troops,” said John Laughter, Delta EVP and Chief of Operations. “And we are again proud to pledge Delta people and our aircraft in support our country’s relief efforts.”Delta will not fly directly into Afghanistan but instead stage aircraft at various military bases and provide onward flights for passengers.
Delta routinely provides transport for US troops moving between the US and international locations through its Charter Operations group. 
The airline was last tapped to provide significant military support via CRAF in 2002 in the ramp-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
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