Behind The Scenes: Inside American Airlines’ CRAF Operations

On August 22nd, the US Department of Defense notified American Airlines that it had activated “Stage 1 of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF)” in response to the crisis in Afghanistan. This saw American Airlines deploy three widebody aircraft to military bases and other secure transit points on the Arabian Peninsula and in Europe. Let’s take a look at what went on behind the scenes of this operation…

American Airlines CRAF
American Airlines deployed its Boeing 777-200ERs to special locations, including the US military’s base in Ramstein, Germany. Photo: American Airlines

Responding to a crisis, rising to the occasion

Being called by the government to assist with the emergency evacuation of US citizens and refugees coming from Kabul, Afghanistan, American Airlines, and other US carriers sprang into action as part of the CRAF program.

Along with the three jets from American Airlines, there were also three aircraft each from Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, and Omni Air. Four aircraft have come from United Airlines, and two from Hawaiian Airlines.

In a statement on its website, the carrier said,

“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 Airlines

American Airlines CRAF
Aircraft had to be pulled from the airline’s regular passenger operations but did its best to minimize disruption to customers. Photo: American Airlines

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Going behind the scenes

Within hours of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) being activated, American Airlines opened up its CRAF Command Center. The airline notes that this was made up of departments and representatives from across the carrier. This was effectively a scaled-down version of its standard Integrated Operations Center, which coordinates the airline’s thousands of daily flights.

Daren Pardue, Operations Efficiency & Standards Manager at American Airlines, notes that staff had a 12-hour window to arrange for all necessary departments to come in. The command center was comprised of various teams working around the clock, 24 hours a day. Thus, each team had to set their own schedules and rotations to ensure constant coverage in all areas. Eric Adducchio, the Manager of Charters, notes that there was a need for crew schedulers, as well as specialists able to work with aircraft dispatch and routing.

American Airlines CRAF
Despite the airline only needing to manage just three widebodies, American’s CRAF team members needed to respond, react, and adjust in real-time to changing conditions. Photo: American Airlines

A major team effort

In the space of two days, American Airlines says that nearly 20 of its IAD (Washington Dulles) team members at the station applied to receive “a temporary customs seal” to allow them to take part in the work surrounding these rescue flights.

“[The CRAF Command Center] went to great lengths to account for every detail, including preparing to fly to new airports, ensuring our aircraft were stocked with supplies to make the evacuees’ journey with us as comfortable as possible and supporting our crew members.” -American Airlines

On the ground and away from the operations center, an impromptu pizza run was organized for the evacuees onboard one flight. Even before the first mission took flight, American says that a team at JFK Airport worked to provision an aircraft “with everything from pajamas and washcloths to diapers and teddy bears for children.”

The work by American Airlines and fellow carriers activated by CRAF is certainly impressive. Did you know about the US Civil Reserve Air Fleet? Let us know by leaving a comment.