The Pentagon has activated 47 U.S. passenger aircraft to carry U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf as part of the build-up for possible military action against Iraq.
No cargo aircraft have been activated yet, though cargo carriers such as Atlas Air, Polar Air Cargo and FedEx Corp. are all flying cargo for the military. If the U.S. Transportation Command decides it needs additional freighter lift, it has the authority to activate 31 all-cargo planes from companies participating in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet .
CRAF aircraft are U.S. commercial passenger and cargo aircraft that are contractually obligated to move passengers and cargo when the Department of Defense's airlift requirements exceeds the capability of U.S. military aircraft.
The airlines providing the aircraft are American, American Trans Air, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, North American, Northwest, Omni International, United, USAirways and World Airways. The Pentagon did not say how many aircraft each carrier is providing.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Saturday authorized the U.S. Transportation Command to activate Stage I of the CRAF program, which involves 22 U.S. airlines and 78 planes -47 passenger aircraft and 31 wide-body cargo aircraft.
USTRANSCOM's commander, Air Force Gen. John W. Handy, only activated the passenger planes because U.S. military airlift and freighters volunteered to the military by cargo operators are meeting the airlift requirements, the Pentagon said. Atlas Air, for example, is already operating between nine and 12 of its 747 freighters for the military per day. Activation of Stage 1 would have no impact on Atlas since it only has four aircraft committed at that level. However, if required, Handy could activate those 31 cargo aircraft.
The activation of the passenger aircraft is expected to have little impact on the airline industry, at least in the short run. The first quarter is traditionally the weakest period for both the passenger and the cargo business.
The CRAF program has three stages. Stage I is the lowest activation level, Stage II would be used for major regional contingencies; and Stage III would be used for periods of national mobilization. During a crisis, if the Air Mobility Command, the air component of USTRANSCOM, requires additional aircraft, it would request the USTRANSCOM commander to activate the appropriate CRAF stage. Stage II was activated during Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1991. Stage III has never been activated.
To provide incentives for commercial carriers to commit aircraft to the CRAF program and to assure the United States has adequate airlift reserves, AMC awards peacetime airlift contracts to civilian airlines that participate in the CRAF program.
The CRAF air carriers continue to operate and maintain the aircraft with their resources; however, AMC controls the aircraft missions through the Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.