Air Transportation: August 30, 2001

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In America, the air force and army are working hard to develop forces and plans for quick intervention in overseas hotspots. It's often pointed out that there are not enough military air transports to support all these schemes. Congress is reluctant to fund something as unexciting as additional transport aircraft. But there is another reason to be hesitant. Some 70 percent of the current missions flown by 800 U.S. military transports are operated by reserve crews. Same with the ground crews and other support people. All these pilots and technicians are "borrowed" from commercial airlines. In addition, some six hundred commercial aircraft (and their crews) belong to CRAF (Civil Reserve Air Fleet). In a wartime emergency, the CRAF aircraft are mobilized for military use (in peacetime the airlines are paid a fee for making these transports available.) When you do the math, you realize that adding more air transports to the military fleet will mean having to recruit more reserve pilots and maintenance people from the civilian airlines. There is no other source. You can't recruit and train active duty transport pilots, because there is not enough for them to do in peacetime. Thats why so many of the transports are flown by reservists. Even then, many of these flights are with empty aircraft. The reserve pilots have to fly so many hours a year in the military transports to maintain their skills in these unique aircraft. That so many flights are empty is kept quiet, as this sort of "waste" raises hackles in Congress (and headlines for the media on a slow news day.) Put another way, the size of the American military air transport fleet is made possible by the huge size of American civil aviation. But you can only take away so many pilots and maintenance people from the civil fleet for military use before civil aviation is crippled. You won't hear about this unless the military gets a lot more air transports. At that point it will become more clear that rapid intervention in overseas crises is, perhaps, a little too ambitious.

 


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