American Airlines, Delta and Other Commercial Airlines Ordered to Join Afghan Evacuation Efforts

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Washington will use commercial airlines for its evacuation efforts in Afghanistan.
Washington will use commercial airlines for its evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. (Image: OrnaW via Pixabay)

On Aug. 22, the Pentagon activated Stage-1 of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) protocol that provides the Defense Department access to commercial air resources. The CRAF activation is aimed at augmenting the Pentagon’s support of State Department efforts to evacuate American citizens and Afghan nationals from Afghanistan, an endeavor ending on August 31.

“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 Kabul,” a statement from the Defense Department said.

The current CRAF activation is applicable to 18 aircrafts – four from United Airlines, three each from Atlas Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Omni Air, and two from Hawaiian Airlines. The activation is not expected to impact commercial flight schedules.

Under CRAF, the commercial airline carriers will retain their Civil Status as per Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), which is one of the 11 unified combatant commands of the Department of Defense, will exercise mission control through its Air Mobility Command.

Washington has used CRAF only twice in the past. The first was during Operation Desert Shield/Storm between August 1990 and May 1991. The second was during Operation Iraqi Freedom between February 2002 and June 2003.

United Airline will be using four of its Boeing 777-300 planes for the evacuation process. Each of these planes can seat up to 350 passengers. Airline crews will be paid extra for the flights.

“We embrace the responsibility to quickly respond to international challenges like these and use our expertise to ensure the safe passage of our fellow countrymen and women as well as those who have risked their lives to help keep them safe,” United Airlines said in a statement.

American Airlines will be deploying three wide-body planes for the mission. Atlas Air stated that they are doing “as much as possible” to provide the required capacity for evacuation efforts. Delta will use “multiple relief flights.”

The civilian planes will not fly to and from Kabul airport. Instead, they will be used to transport people who have already been shifted to airbases in Germany, Bahrain, and Qatar. It is estimated that around 15,000 American citizens and 50,000 to 60,000 Afghan allies are to be evacuated from the Taliban-controlled nation. 

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