Defense Secretary orders six commercial airlines to help transport Afghan refugees
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered six commercial airlines to supply airliners to aid the growing United States military operation to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul, the Afghan capital, a the Pentagon announced on Sunday.
Mr. Austin activated Stage 1 of the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet, established in 1952 after the Berlin Airlift, to provide 18 airliners to assist passengers arriving from Afghanistan at bases in the Middle East, John F. Kirby, Pentagon spokesperson, said in a press release.
The current activation involves 18 aircraft: four from United Airlines; three from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; and two from Hawaiian Airlines.
The Pentagon does not foresee a major impact on commercial flights, Kirby said.
Army Transport Command spokesman Captain John Perkins said on Sunday the airliners would enter service on Monday or Tuesday and transport evacuees from the Middle East to Europe and Europe to the United States.
Captain Perkins said in a telephone interview that the military had requested long-haul widebody aircraft capable of carrying several hundred passengers. He said talks started with airlines last week and some carriers have offered planes for the evacuation. But, he added, the demand was large enough for Austin to order more airlines to meet their obligations under the reserve fleet program.
Civilian planes would not fly to or from Kabul, where a rapidly deteriorating security situation hampered evacuation flights. Instead, commercial airline pilots and crews would help transport thousands of Afghans arriving at US bases in Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Commercial airlines are said to ease the burden on those bases, which fill up quickly as the Biden administration rushes to increase the number of flights for thousands of Afghans fearing retaliation from Taliban fighters.
From bases in the Middle East, airliners would increase military flights carrying Afghans to Germany, Italy, Spain and other stopovers in Europe, and then ultimately to the United States for many Afghans. , officials said.
Scott Kirby, Managing Director of United Airlines, said on social networks, “As a global airline and flag bearer of our country, we take responsibility for responding quickly to international challenges like this. “
“It is a duty that we take with the greatest care and the greatest coordination,” he added.
The airline noted that four of its Boeing 777s, which can accommodate up to 350 people, have been activated.
This is only the third time that the reserve air fleet has been used. The first took place during the Persian Gulf War (August 1990 to May 1991). The second took place during the war in Iraq (from February 2002 to June 2003).
For the evacuation mission, one of the most important the Pentagon has ever undertaken, the military has expanded beyond its fleet of C-17s, the cargo plane of choice in hostile environments, to include giant C-5s and KC-10s, a refueling plane. which can be configured to carry passengers.