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Civil Reserve Air Fleet

A unique and significant part of the nation's air mobility resources is the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. 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.


CRAF was founded upon the Defense Production Act of 1950, which gave POTUS broad authorities for prioritization and allocation of industrial base resources and required national preparedness programs to respond to both domestic emergencies and international threats to national security. Executive Order 13603, National Defense Resources Preparedness, 3 January 2016, establishes the current Defense Production Act (DPA) framework, including Department of Transportation’s delegated authority over civil transportation.


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 Air Mobility Command's long-range intertheater C-5s and C-17s during periods of increased airlift needs, from minor contingencies to 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. CRAF carriers can provide surge capacity through volunteerism; and DOD only considers CRAF activation when volunteerism cannot close the gap between organic capacity and requirements.

Three stages of incremental activation ensure augmentation is 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 the carrier is notified of CRAF activation, the carrier must have aircraft and qualified aircrews ready to support within 24 to 72 hours, depending on which CRAF stage is activated. The air carriers continue to operate and maintain the aircraft in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations. In the event of DOD activation, carriers retain operational control of their assets as well as their civil status and first right of refusal based on operational risk.


Safety is of paramount concern, and numerous procedures are in effect to ensure contracted air carriers afford the highest level of safety to DoD passengers. Prior to receiving a contract, all carriers must demonstrate 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 CRAF (subject to change monthly):

International Segment - Long Range Section:


Air Transport International

American Airlines


Atlas Air

Delta Air Lines

Federal Express Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines

Kalitta Air Cargo

National Airlines

Omni Air International

Polar Air Cargo

United Air Lines

United Parcel Service

Western Global


International Segment - Short Range Section:


Alaska Airlines


Delta Air Lines

Eastern Airlines

Jet Blue

Lynden Air Cargo

National Airlines

Northern Air Cargo

Sun Country

United Air Lines


National Segment - Domestic Section:

Allegiant Air

Southwest Airlines

Everts Air


(Current as of January 2024)