What Is The United States Civil Reserve Air Fleet?

The United States Department of Defense (DOD) formally announced yesterday that it would activate Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) to help with the Afghanistan evacuations. With this critical action taking place, let’s take a look at CRAF’s role.

Delta Airbus A330
Delta Air Lines’ Airbus A330-300 is one aircraft type that is being sent to the Middle East. Photo: Getty Images

Seven decades in the making

The evacuation from Afghanistan is undoubtedly a sensitive operation. However, the CRAF program is no stranger to working on such challenging tasks. It was established on December 15th, 1951, following a joint agreement with the DOD and the Department of Commerce. Overall, DOD concluded that there was a requirement for additional aircraft to support defense emergencies following the Berlin Airlift.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) adds that the Secretary of Commerce, under Executive Order 10999, had the role of drawing up strategies for a national emergency preparedness initiative, which CRAF is part of. Following the establishment of the DOT in 1967, this department had the responsibility to handle the transportation segment of the emergency preparedness program, which includes CRAF.

Civil Reserve Air Fleet
Soldiers marching after disembarking from a CRAF Boeing 747 aircraft after landing in support of Operation Desert Shield. Photo: Getty Images

Helping each other out

The fleet has been activated twice. Once was during the Gulf War between 1990 and 1991. The other time was during the build-up to the Iraq War in the early 2000s.

“The Civil Reserve Air Fleet is a cooperative, voluntary program involving the DOT, DOD and the U.S. civil air carrier industry in a partnership to augment DOD aircraft capability during a national defense related crisis, Air carriers volunteer their aircraft to the CRAF program through contractual agreements with U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), located at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois,” the Department of Transportation shares.

“In return, the participating carriers are given preference in carrying commercial peacetime cargo and passenger traffic for DOD.”

The aircraft being sent following the weekend’s announcement won’t fly to Kabul. Instead, they will transport passengers from Middle East bases to Europe and the US. 18 civilian aircraft will be used in all. They are split by the following:

  • American Airlines: 4
  • Atlas Air: 3
  • Delta Air Lines: 3
  • Omni Air: 3
  • United Airlines: 4
  • Hawaiian Airlines: 2
United Airlines Boeing 777-300ER
The fleet being deployed includes United Airlines’ Boeing 777-300ER. Photo: United Airlines

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A diverse offering

These numbers make up a far larger fleet. Currently, 24 airlines and 450 planes are enrolled in the program. 413 units are in the international segment, split between 268 in the long-range international section and 145 in the short-range international group. There are also 37 planes in the national segment. It’s important to note that the figures change monthly.

The United States Air Force confirms that as of August 2021, the following airlines contribute their aircraft to CRAF:

International segment – long-range

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

International segment – short-range

  • ABX Air
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Amerijet International
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Eastern Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Kalitta Air Cargo
  • Lynden Air Cargo
  • National Airlines
  • Northern Air Cargo
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • United Airlines

National segment – domestic

  • Allegiant Air
  • Everts Air Cargo
  • Southwest Airlines

Altogether, with backing from most major US commercial passenger carriers, and support from some of the most recognizable cargo specialists in the world, CRAF has all angles covered with its program. These airlines undoubtedly have plenty of the right aircraft at their disposable should they be called upon.

What are your thoughts about Civil Reserve Air Fleet? What do you make of how the aircraft are deployed? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and their operations in the comment section.