Air Transportation: Casualties Of Peace


January 11, 2012:  With U.S. troops out of Iraq, and fewer troops in Afghanistan, the United States is spending less on commercial air transportation services. This year, only about $1.6 billion will be spent. That's down from over $3 billion a year for 2008 and 2009. The amount spent has rapidly declined since then. It was about $2.3 billion yearly in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Most of the military cargo shipped to combat zones is carried by the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of over 200 heavy transports. However, the majority of the troops are moved by commercial aviation charters. But since 2003, the Department of Defense has been moving more cargo by commercial flights, including some of the cargo going into places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Gradually about a quarter of that was shifted to commercial air freight companies. These companies can do the work a lot more cheaply, often about 40 percent less. This program is intended to take the load off the military transports, especially those using reservist pilots. These pilots, especially those flying C-130s, ran out of available time for active duty flying (by law, there are limits to how long reservists can be called up for active duty). The air force also wants to give its support troops a break, as there are not enough of them to support wartime levels of operations over a long period.

Some of the commercial air freight companies have familiar names, like DHS or UPS. But others are unfamiliar, relatively new, outfits from Eastern Europe, flying Russian made An-12s and Il-76s. Some non-American companies will not be allowed to carry “sensitive” cargoes, but most of the tonnage is pretty ordinary stuff.



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