Use of Civilian Plans for Military Transport Decades Old With AM-Plane Crash Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States, with an Air Force that includes the largest fleet of transport planes in the free world, has nonetheless relied on civilian airliners to ferry soldiers around the globe for more than 30 years.
The policy, formulated during the Eisenhower administration, now funnels more than $400 million in annual peacetime business to civilian companies.
In fiscal 1985 alone, more than 1.5 million Defense Department personnel flew between the United States and overseas points. Of that total, 56 percent, or 843,000, moved on ″contract aircraft,″ according to Maj. Portia McCracken, a spokeswoman for the Military Airlift Command.
If personnel flying alone on scheduled flights with regular tickets are included, about 95 percent of all Pentagon employees flying overseas use commercial aircraft.
The issue of the Pentagon’s reliance on civilian airlines was raised Thursday following the crash of a chartered DC-8 in Newfoundland, in which 250 soldiers and eight civilian crewmen were killed.
The plane, operated by Arrow Airlines of Miami, crashed immediately upon takeoff early Thursday morning while destined for Fort Campbell, Ky. The soldiers were returning home from a six-month rotation with the peace-keeping force in the Sinai Desert.
Pentagon spokesman Bob Sims, when asked why the Defense Department relies on charters, responded Thursday: ″Usually for reasons of economy.″
″If there is a plane that is available in a region that can be chartered to fly from point A to point B, and you can get it for a certain price that is less than sending a (military) aircraft from some distant point using fuel, crew, etc., you do that,″ he said.
″We don’t pretend to fly everyone by military aircraft; never have. We’ve been using charters as a procedure in our own forces for a long time.″
According to the Pentagon, the current policy involving the use of commercial aircraft stems from a program known as CRAF - Civil Reserve Air Fleet.
Under the program, commercial passenger and cargo airlines pledge the use of their planes during emergencies, to be made available at a moment’s notice. According to the Air Force, if the United States again became involved in a major war, more than 95 percent of all troops would move into the combat theater on commercial planes while military planes ferried cargo and weapons.
By agreeing to participate in CRAF, an airline becomes eligible for peacetime business from the military. The peacetime business is apportioned among the participating carriers based on their commitment of aircraft.
In the case of major airlines with large international routes, such as Pan American or Trans World Airlines, they receive business normally through blocks of seating reserved on regular flights. Smaller carriers such as Arrow are normally allotted full-plane charters.
″The commitment of this civil resource saves the Department of Defense multi-billions of dollars in duplicate procurement, operational and maintenance costs,″ the Air Force says.
Arrow Airlines is one of approximately two dozen civilian firms now participating in CRAF. More than 390 aircraft are now committed to military use under the program in the event of an emergency.
In fiscal 1985, Arrow received contracts worth $33.7 million out of the total $422.7 million placed with commercial firms. Most of that business was awarded to Arrow by the Military Airlift Command, which serves as the Defense Department’s executive agent for airlift.
The Arrow jet that crashed Thursday, however, was flying on a special charter arranged by the Rome headquarters of the Multinational Force and Observer, the name of the peacekeeping force assigned to the Sinai.
″Like all CRAF carriers, Arrow is both a Federal Aviation Administration- cer tified and MAC-inspected carrier,″ the Pentagon said Thursday.
Besides saving money, the CRAF program allows the Air Force to use most of its transport aircraft for cargo.