US DoD activates Civil Reserve Air Fleet to assist with Afghanistan efforts

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin III announced on August 22 that he has ordered the Commander of US Transportation Command (USTRANSACOM) to activate Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) programme.

CRAF activation provides the US Department of Defense (DoD) access to commercial air mobility resources to augment support to the US Department of State in the evacuation of US 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.

Atlas Air 747 Incirlik
An Atlas Air 747 airliner taxies towards the runway on April 1, 2016, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, after the US Secretary of Defense, in co-ordination with the Secretary of State, ordered the departure of all Department of Defense dependents assigned to Incirlik Air Base. Atlas Air aircraft have regularly been chartered for US military transport operations and the airline is one of six selected on August 22, 2021, to provide aircraft under the CRAF for assistance with the evacuation from Kabul. US Air Force/Staff Sgt Jack Sanders

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 only the third CRAF activation in the history of the programme. The first occurred in support of Operations Desert Shield/Storm (August 1990 to May 1991) and the second was for Operation Iraqi Freedom (February 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. Aside from the CRAF programme, the US military routinely charters civilian airliners on a regular basis for troop and cargo transport to support its operations worldwide.