CNN's Pentagon activates US airlines to assist with evacuation efforts from Afghanistan says:

The Pentagon announced Sunday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the commander of US Transportation Command to initiate stage one of its Civil Reserve Air Fleet to assist with flying US citizens, Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other vulnerable individuals out of Afghanistan.

Austin's directive will activate 18 commercial flights to help with the evacuation efforts: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.


American said it will be ready to deploy "three widebody aircraft," starting Monday, while United Airlines said that it is activating four Boeing 777-300s and still trying to glean the extent of what's expected to be a "small" impact on the rest of its operation. "The images from Afghanistan are heartbreaking," American said in a statement Sunday.

"The airline is proud and grateful of our pilots and flight attendants, who will be operating these trips to be a part of this life-saving effort."

Atlas Air is "proud to provide" the Pentagon with "essential passenger services in the region at this critical time. We are doing as much as possible to provide the much needed capacity to support the evacuation efforts," a spokesperson for the company told CNN.

Question: When the US government activates a Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), can it activate the civilian crew as well, or are they always volunteers?

From the Pentagon's announcement linked above:

The current activation is for 18 aircraft: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines. The Department does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights from this activation.

CRAF activated aircraft will not fly into Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. They will be used for the onward movement of passengers from temporary safe havens and interim staging bases. Activating CRAF increases passenger movement beyond organic capability and allows military aircraft to focus on operations in and out of in Kabul.

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    I can't find a tag for federal mobilization of civilian services nor department-of-defense.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 0:17

2 Answers 2


All airlines that participate in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program do so through contracts with the Department of Defense (DoD). These contracts define what the airlines will provide if the DoD activates the program, and the compensation the DoD will provide the airline both during the activation and during times of peace. There have been many such contracts over the decades and perhaps some of them offered specific personnel for the DoD to call upon, however the basic style of these contracts is just that the DoD is able to request some number of aircraft to perform an airlift service.

In short, the DoD is essentially calling upon the airlines to operate flights at certain locations and times, but the actual specifics of performing those flights are left to the airlines. Although providing the personnel needed to operate the aircraft seems to be part of a CRAF contract, the airlines themselves determine how they assign their personnel to a CRAF trip.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) codifies the various rules and regulations that the US government has to follow, and Title 32 of the Code of Federal Regulations (32 CFR) covers national defense topics, such as the CRAF program. Part 243 of 32 CFR lays out the guidelines for how to determine compensation for CRAF contracts, and 32 CFR § 243.3 is a section of helpful definitions about the program:

Civil Reserve Air Fleet International Airlift Services. Those services provided in support of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet contract, whereby contractors provide personnel, training, supervision, equipment, facilities, supplies and any items and services necessary to perform international long-range and short-range airlift services during peacetime and during CRAF activation in support of the Department of Defense (DoD).


As used herein, CRAF aircraft are those allocated aircraft, which the carrier owning or otherwise controlling them, has contractually committed to the DoD, under stated conditions, to meet varying emergency needs for civil airlift augmentation of the military airlift capability. The contractual commitment of the aircraft includes the supporting resources required to provide the contract airlift. In return for a commitment to the CRAF program, airlines are afforded access to day-to-day business under various DoD contracts.

There are a variety of other rules, regulations, and laws covering how the contracts are negotiated and what the contracts can contain, however the basic style of the contracts are clear: the airlines offer the DoD some number of aircraft to call upon to provide airlift services, and it is up to the airlines to provide the equipment and crew necessary to actually perform those services.

I'm sure each airline has their own method of assigning crews to pledged aircraft, and they likely run the full spectrum between 'entirely volunteer' to 'part of your employment contract'. However, just to have at least one example I was able find the CRAF procedures for United Airlines pretty easily. This document appears to be an agreement between United and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and Letter of Agreement 20 on page 413 of the document (423 of the PDF) has this to say about fulfilling CRAF requirements:

2-D-1 Given the emergency nature of the CRAF Operation, the Company shall keep on file a currently effective Preference List which shall include, in order of seniority, all pilots desiring to fly the CRAF Operation. Each Pilot on the CRAF Preference List shall indicate whether he is preferencing a Captain vacancy or a First Officer vacancy, and Equipment type.


2-D-13-c CRAF Trip Assignments Whenever the company assigns individual CRAF Trips to pilots (when the assignment window opens) it shall do so in the following order:

2-D-13-c-(1) To a Reserve who is available for the assignment and has volunteered to perform CRAF flying,

2-D-13-c-(2) To a Reserve who is on a day off (and who is willing to move his day off) and has volunteered to perform CRAF flying,

2-D-13-c-(3) To a Lineholder who has volunteered to perform CRAF flying (and who is willing to trade his scheduled Trip for a CRAF Trip),

2-D-13-c-(4) To a Reserve who has not volunteered to perform CRAF flying who shall be advised that the Trip is a CRAF assignment. In this event the Reserve may refuse the assignment due to the military nature of the Trip and shall be bypassed for that assignment with no indication,

2-D-13-c-(5) To an out-of-Base Pilot who has volunteered to perform CRAF,

2-D-13-c-(6) To a Pilot in accordance with the provisions of Section 20-H-5 who has volunteered to perform CRAF flying

As you can see, it seems like United assigns pilots on a purely volunteer basis, and even if they need to ask a pilot who had not signed up to perform a CRAF trip the pilot has a right to refuse. I couldn't find similar guidelines for other personnel needed to perform an airlift (flight attendants, fuel and baggage handlers, traffic control, etc.) but regardless of the specifics it seems that the airline has full control over the matter of personnel.

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    Thanks for your thorough answer! I thought about asking Do CRAF crews receive the equivalent of "combat pay"? in Aviation SE but I think it may be outside the scope of the site.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 0:08
  • 2
    @uhoh : That United contract I linked mentions extra pay and vacation time for folks assigned to a CRAF trip, so probably not? There are other questions about pay on Aviation SE so it might be fine to ask there.
    – Giter
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 2:29

The Department of Defense pays the owner of the aircraft to provide a service. The owner of the aircraft pays its employees to operate the aircraft. The selection of specific crew members for the flights is probably through the same mechanism used for regular duty assignments, but regardless of how it's done, the DoD doesn't trouble itself with the details.


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