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Study shapes future of commercial airlift augmentation

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kathleen Ferrero
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
The rules governing how airlines supplement U.S. military airlift are being revised, after years of consultation by the Air Force with the airline industry.

According to officials, upcoming changes to the management of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet are meant to ensure the nation's capability to rapidly airlift servicemembers and military supplies around the world at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.

"We couldn't achieve rapid global mobility on a large scale without civilian airlines," said Merle Lyman, Air Mobility Command's Commercial Airlift Division chief. "We simply don't have the number of military aircraft we need when world events push us to an unexpected surge in activity."

A review of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet was necessary, officials say, to meet future defense needs and changes in the commercial airlift business. Industry partners largely supported the program changes and were asked their concerns during the review, Lyman said.

"Industry spoke, and we listened, said Gen. Darren McDew, commander of Air Mobility Command. "The study highlighted the need for the right balance of organic and commercial capability and capacity to meet future requirements."

"We value the commitment of our civilian carriers and their ability to provide the majority of commercial augmentation capacity for wartime airlift requirements," McDew said. "Their flexibility and agility to respond to short-notice taskings and go anywhere in the world is a service that enables our country to respond rapidly when our national needs are greatest."

Change is coming

The 18-month CRAF review process was designed to address industry concerns,
Lyman said.

"It was extremely important to us that we engage our CRAF partners through each phase of the study. Together, we came up with solutions that meet national defense requirements without incurring excess costs to the taxpayer or additional risk to the carriers," Lyman said.

One concern of CRAF partners was the level of commitment required to participate in the program, he said. As participants in CRAF, airlines invest considerable resources to ensure aircraft are always available for use outside of their standard business.

To address industry concerns, the new requirement is that each airline commit just one mandatory aircraft in the initial stage of the CRAF program. This allows the carriers to manage their risk as they can then decide if they want to devote more aircraft beyond that in order to have increased access to the DOD peacetime business, Lyman said.

"We require less up-front commitment from carriers in order to mitigate their risks, because our military-owned airlift fleet is more flexible than it used to be. We can now handle more capacity before we call upon the assistance of civilian carriers," Lyman said.

Another change that reduces the impact of CRAF activation for Stage I on our commercial partners is the guarantee that activation will be for a minimum of seven days and at least seven days notice for de-activation. This will allow the carriers time to plan their aircraft back into the flow of their commercial business. In addition, commercial aircraft will be guaranteed at least 12 hours of use per day when activated.

While the review addressed concerns of all stakeholders, readiness was the main goal.

"The new CRAF program structure ensures our nation retains its unmatched surge capability," Lyman said.

How CRAF Works

The Civil Reserve Air Fleet includes aircraft from U.S. airlines contractually committed to augment Department of Defense airlift in emergencies.

The airlines contractually pledge aircraft, ready for activation when needed. To provide incentives for carriers to commit aircraft to the program and assure the U.S. has adequate airlift reserves, the government makes peacetime DoD airlift business available to CRAF partners.

Civilian airlines are activated in three stages. Military planners can thus tailor airlift suitable for the contingency at hand. Stage I is for minor regional crises and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief efforts. Stage II would be used for major theater war and Stage III for periods of national mobilization.

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.

As of January 2014, 26 carriers and 552 aircraft are enrolled in CRAF.