Air Transport World

CRAF a 'qualified' success. (Civil Reserve Air Fleet)

After 38 years of practice sessions and training, the team finally got to play a game. By all accounts, they were victorious. Now, both players and coaches are back in the clubhouse, studying the films of the game. While the team did well, all agree that there's room for improvement before the next match.

The team in this case was the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), a military-transport program developed during the Korean War but not implemented until Operation Desert Shield. Under the plan, U.S. airlines fly troops and cargo for the military. Even without CRAF, civil carriers customarily perform military, charters, in both peacetime e and war-to the tune of about $500 million annually, on average.

But when CRAF is activated, the Military Airlift Command (MAC) may press civil aircraft into service on as little as 24-hr. notice. Participation in CRAF is voluntary but once an airline is in the program, it is obligated contractually to respond when called, with specified numbers of aircraft. In return, CRAF carriers are supposed to receive some preferential consideration when routine military-charter contracts are awarded.

Almost as soon as President Bush authorized deployment of U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf, military airlift was under way on commercial carriers. The voluntarily supplied fleet proved insufficient within little more than a week, and so CRAF was activated on Aug. 18, 1990.

During the engagement, more than a quarter of all air cargo and nearly two thirds of all personnel were transported on a total of 110 civil aircraft that flew more than 4,700 missions. The total load came to 310,000 troops and nearly 150,000 tons of cargo, according to ATA Executive Vice President William Hoover. During late january and early February, CRAF carriers were averaging 23.4 missions per day.

During Operation Desert Sortie, the redeployment of forces, troops were leaving the theater of operations at the rate of 5,000 per day and 87% of them traveled on civilian aircraft, along with 43% of the returning air cargo, according to Diane Morales, deputy assistant secretary of defense, logistics.

Although the redeployment was to continue with volunteer airline support, possibly through next month, CRAF was deactivated on May 24. …

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