Biden Administration Looks To Marshal Airlines For Afghanistan Evacuation

The Biden Administration is looking to activate the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) to assist with the evacuation of Afghanistan. With the military evacuations continuing in earnest, there are more people than seats available on planes to evacuate key personnel and other evacuees from Afghanistan. As a result, US officials are looking to marshal commercial aircraft to assist in the evacuation.

American Airlines
The US government is looking at marshaling commercial aircraft to assist in the ongoing evacuation from Afghanistan. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Biden Administration looks to activate CRAF

The Wall Street Journal reports that top US officials are looking at activating the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to bring nearly 20 commercial aircraft from up to five airlines to support the US military evacuation from Afghanistan. With military aircraft conducted the bulk of the evacuation out of Afghanistan itself, the civil fleet activated would provide for the evacuation of key personnel and evacuees from bases in the Middle East and Europe.

Officials reported that the US Transportation Command, which oversees many of the logistical needs around transportation to support missions, has notified airlines that the CRAF may be activated, though it has not yet. This notification was set on Friday night, according to WSJ.

If activated, there are various stages that are part of the program. Carriers will have a certain amount of time – from as short as 24 hours to up to 72 hours – to prepare the aircraft for service.

The main goal will be to assist the US government in ferrying key personnel and evacuees out of US bases in Europe and the Middle East. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

For the past week, the world has turned its attention to the situation in Afghanistan. With the capital falling to the Taliban, the Kabul International Airport (KBL) seized the world’s attention with harrowing images of people looking to leave the country and key foreign personnel working their way out of the country. Foreign airlines have also been conducting evacuations on behalf of their government. This includes Air India and Lufthansa.

Supporting the evacuation

The US military has been conducting evacuations out of Afghanistan. This included an eye-popping rescue of over 800 passengers aboard a C-17. The current focus is on bringing American personnel, including military and embassy officials and allies who assisted the US in Afghanistan, such as local translators, subcontractors, and more.

Those large evacuations have mainly been to US bases in the Middle East and Europe. This includes Qatar, Bahrain, and Germany, among others. As evacuations continue, those bases are starting to fill up, and thousands more personnel and eligible American allies in Afghanistan are expected to be evacuated to those bases.

Atlas Air Boeing 747
The CRAF is activated when the military needs more aircraft than it can currently devote to a mission. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

As stated, commercial aircraft would not be flying into Afghanistan. Nearly every major airline is avoiding the airspace above Afghanistan. Instead, the commercial planes would fly evacuees from US bases in Europe and the Middle East.

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What is the Civil Reserve Air Fleet?

CRAF is a joint program that brings in the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Defense (DOD), and US airlines in a partnership to support DOD operations. US airlines that voluntarily contract with the program commit certain aircraft from their fleets to the program for use in emergency situations where commercial aircraft are needed to augment the military operation.

In return, there is a huge incentive for airlines to participate in the program. This includes giving participating airlines preference in carrying commercial peacetime cargo and passenger traffic for the DOD.

The CRAF is divided into international and national fleets. Within the international fleet, there are long-range and short-range segments. Meanwhile, the national segment covers domestic requirements.

DL A330-900
Airlines opt to be a part of the program, and most US carriers do participate in the program. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

According to the US government, as of August 2021, 24 airlines and 450 aircraft are enrolled in CRAF. 413 aircraft are enrolled in the international segment (268 in the long-range international segment and 145 in the short-range international segment), with 37 aircraft in the national segment. These numbers can change from month to month.

Supporting the evacuation from Afghanistan would largely cover international long-range fleets. The following airlines, as of August 2021, are contracted under the international long-range segment (including cargo airlines):

  • ABX Air
  • Air Transport International
  • American Airlines
  • Amerijet International
  • Atlas Air
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Federal Express Airlines (FedEx)
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Kalitta Air Cargo
  • National Airlines
  • Omni Air International
  • Polar Air Cargo
  • United Airlines
  • United Parcel Service (UPS)
  • Western Global

It is unclear which airlines may be called upon to meet their CRAF obligations for this mission. However, with passenger evacuations as the primary mission, major passenger airlines and charter airlines come to mind.

Do you think the US government should activate the Civil Reserve Air Fleet? Let us know in the comments!