THE CIVILIAN RESERVE AIR FLEET: A STOCKPILE MODEL?

One example of a U.S. government program that seeks to maintain surge capacity for military crises in ways broadly analogous to materials stockpiling is the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). The CRAF involves commitments by U.S. airlines (both passenger and cargo carriers) to provide airlift capacity (cargo, passenger, and medevac services) to the U.S. military on relatively short notice (24-48 hours). Airline companies are required to convert their aircraft to meet specific military requirements within this period of time. Although the carriers continue to operate the aircraft, the Air Force Air Mobility Command (AMC) controls the aircraft during mobilization of the CRAF. The CRAF is organized into three broad segments: international, domestic, and aeromedical services.

Airlines participating in the CRAF do not receive any direct payments for maintaining aircraft that can be converted on short notice to meet military requirements. Instead, their participation is rewarded by eligibility for peacetime military air transportation contracts. For FY2005, CRAF carriers were guaranteed contracts worth $418 million by the Air Force, and the Air Force AMC estimated that an additional $1.5 billion in contracts for transportation services would be awarded to participating airlines, although these commitments were not guaranteed.

CRAF has been activated only twice in its 54-year history: in the 1991 Desert Storm action (August 1990-May 1991) and during the U.S. military action in Iraq (February-June 2003). As of April 2005, 40 carriers and 1,126 aircraft were enrolled in CRAF, more than 1,000 of them in the international segment of the program.

CRAF provides surge capacity for the military services at a much lower cost than they could provide it for themselves. Nevertheless, the financial instability that afflicts the U.S. airline industry and the growing military interest in transport aircraft that can operate in more primitive landing facilities (shorter runways, poor instrumentation, etc.) are leading the military to consider alternatives to CRAF for what is likely to be the larger surge capacity required for military airlift operations. For their part, carriers have complained about the occasional failure of the military services to use their aircraft once the equipment has been activated and converted to military specifications, because they are directly compensated only when their aircraft are used for airlift. They have also complained that the military services do not pay enough to fully compensate them for use of their equipment.



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