Airliners Called Up For Afghanistan Evacuation


Some airline crews will get some exotic new destinations in their logbooks as they head to the Middle East to help evacuate people from Afghanistan. The federal government has activated Stage I of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) and will take over deployment of 18 airliners and freighters to help get the Americans, Afghans and other foreign nationals to the U.S. It will take three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines. The diversion of the hardware isn’t expected to have any impact on airline schedules.

The airline crews will not be going to Kabul. They’ll pick up their passengers and cargo well away from the chaos in Afghanistan and take them the rest of the way to the U.S. That will free up crews and aircraft for extracting the people from Kabul and getting them to safety for processing. This is the third time the CRAF has been activated. Commercial aircraft were used at the end of Operations Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-91 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002-2003.

USAF aircraft, mostly C-17s, have been hauling thousands of evacuees out of Kabul in the past week, averaging about 400 people per flight in recent days. The evacuees simply sit on the floor of the cavernous cargo hold for the relatively short flights to bases in nearby countries like Qatar. Early in the tumultuous operation, a C-17 left with more than 600 people crammed into the hold as depicted in a now-famous photo. That was still far less than the aircraft’s maximum payload of 170,000 pounds.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Not sure if this is an example of a part of government working, or an example of what President Obama is quoted as saying what Biden is good at! Looks like a desperation act to me.

    • Biden rejected advice from military and winged it, with tragic results now and in future.
      (He’s emboldened enemies – already Russia is saying the US will abandon the Ukraine.

    • The airliners being called up for use in this fashion is a program designed just for these sorts of situations. I’m not sure when the program started, but it’s been around longer the most of us here.
      One problem we’ve had with our ever more incompetent government has been that the elected and non elected leadership has been ignoring or purposefully rejecting the emergency planning done mostly by competent people years in advance just so we wouldn’t have to rely on quick decisions made under pressure and without any plans or rehearsals for their execution.
      I’m really worried that future plans are going to be less adequate since the planners will rationally place little importance on their jobs given the unlikely event no one cares or will ever know if they phone it in.

  2. While some Allied military flights were not full because people could not get to the airport, there is a claim that Canadian C-17s could not carry full payload as they cannot be refueled in the air. (Which is odd as Canada has refuelling tankers perhaps media do not grasp things.)

    Just going to a safe country would eliminate that problem, but more importantly reduce cycle time of evacuation flights out of Kabul.

    BTW, there are many airliner type aircraft evacuating people out of Kabul, many could be US military/executive 737 and 757 airplanes, but some media are saying ‘charters’. Media could be confused, executive aircraft may be unmarked though have a recognized paint scheme, C-39 military 737s are marked according to Wikipedia.

  3. Flightradar24 tells the story in Kabul. Lots of C17’s and C-130’s as well as some 737’s. All military. Civilian airliners don’t come into play until they pick up their passengers from bases in Qatar and UAE. The claim about Canadian C-17’s doesn’t make sense since it is a relatively short flight to those bases.

    • Although I just now see two Kam Air Airbus 340’s going to and leaving Kabul from Abu Dhabi. I bet you there are no Americans on board those planes… Lots of C-17’s today.