A unique and significant part of the nation's air mobility resources is the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, or CRAF. Selected aircraft from U.S. airlines, contractually committed to CRAF, augment Department of Defense airlift requirements in emergencies when the need for airlift exceeds the capability of military aircraft.
The CRAF has two main segments: international and national. The international segment is further divided into the long-range and short-range sections and the national segment satisfies domestic requirements. Assignment of aircraft to a segment depends on the nature of the requirement and the performance characteristics needed.
The long-range international section consists of passenger and cargo aircraft capable of transoceanic operations. The role of these aircraft is to augment the Air Mobility Command's long-range intertheater C-5s and C-17s during periods of increased airlift needs, from minor contingencies up through full national defense emergencies.
Medium-sized passenger and cargo aircraft make up the short-range international section supporting near offshore and select intra-theater airlift requirements.
The airlines contractually pledge aircraft to the various segments of CRAF, ready for activation when needed. To provide incentives for civil carriers to commit aircraft to the CRAF program and to assure the United States of adequate airlift reserves, the government makes peacetime DOD airlift business available to civilian airlines that offer aircraft to the CRAF. DOD offers business through the CRAF Charter Airlift Services contract.
To participate in the international segments of CRAF, carriers must maintain a minimum commitment of 40 percent of its CRAF capable fleet. Aircraft committed must be U.S.-registered and carriers must commit and maintain a 4:1 flight-deck crew ratio for each aircraft accepted in the fleet.
Carriers with aircraft whose performance does not meet minimum CRAF requirements are issued a certificate of technical ineligibility so they can still compete for government airlift business.
As of April 2019, 25 carriers and 433 aircraft are enrolled in CRAF. This includes 396 aircraft in the international segment with 267 in the long-range international section and 129 in the short-range international section. There are 37 aircraft in the national segment. These numbers are subject to change on a monthly basis.
Three stages of incremental activation allow for tailoring an airlift force suitable for the contingency at hand. Stage I is for minor regional crises and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) efforts, Stage II would be used for major theater war and Stage III for periods of national mobilization.
The commander, U.S. Transportation Command, with approval of the Secretary of Defense, is the activation authority for all three stages of CRAF. During a crisis, if AMC has a need for additional aircraft, it would request the commander of USTRANSCOM to take steps to activate the appropriate CRAF stage.
Each stage of the CRAF activation is only used to the extent necessary to provide the amount of civil augmentation airlift needed by DOD. When notified of call-up, the carrier response time to have its aircraft ready for a CRAF mission is 24, 48, or 72 hours depending on which CRAF stage is activated. The air carriers continue to operate and maintain the aircraft with their resources; however, AMC controls the aircraft missions.
Safety is the paramount concern, and numerous procedures are in effect to ensure that the air carriers with which AMC contracts afford the highest level of safety to DOD passengers. Prior to receiving a contract, all carriers must demonstrate that they have provided substantially equivalent and comparable commercial service for one year before submitting their offer to fly for the Defense Department. All carriers must be fully certified Federal Aviation Administration carriers and meet the stringent standards of FAA regulations pertaining to commercial airlines (FAR Part 121).
A DOD survey team, composed of experienced pilots and skilled maintenance personnel, performs an on-site inspection of the carriers. This team conducts a comprehensive inspection that includes the carrier's aircraft, training facilities, crew qualifications, maintenance procedures and quality control practices. After passing this survey, the Commercial Airlift Review Board approves the carrier to provide charter airlift services before receiving a contract.
The DOD Commercial Airlift Division continues to monitor the carrier's safety record, operations and maintenance status, contract performance, financial condition and management initiatives, summarizing significant trends in a comprehensive review every six months. In addition to this in-depth review, there are several other surveillance initiatives. These include safety preflight inspections of commercial aircraft by DOD designated inspectors and periodic cockpit observations on operational flights by highly experienced pilots from AMC's DOD Commercial Airlift Division. This Division maintains close coordination with the FAA for the flow of information on all DOD approved carriers.
The following air carriers are members of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (subject to change monthly)
International Segment - Long Range Section:
Air Transport International
Delta Air Lines
Federal Express Airlines
Kalitta Air Cargo
Omni Air International
Polar Air Cargo
United Air Lines
United Parcel Service
International Segment - Short Range Section:
Delta Air Lines
Jet Blue Airways
Lynden Air Cargo
Miami Air International
MN Airlines dba Sun Country
National Air Cargo Group dba National Airlines
Northern Air Cargo
United Air Lines
USA Jet Airlines
National Segment - Domestic Section:
Everts Air Cargo
Point of Contact
Air Mobility Command, Public Affairs Office; 402 Scott Drive, Unit 1-M-8; Scott AFB, Ill. 62225-5335;
DSN 779-7843 or (618) 229-7843.
(Current as of August 2019)