Air Transportation: December 27, 2003


The war in Iraq was big business for commercial airlines. The total cost of airlift for the war, through the end of last July, was $2.7 billion. In comparison, sealift, which moved most of the tonnage, only cost $1.1 billion. While the U.S. Air Force has hundreds of transports, a lot of the air transports still came from commercial airliners. In 2003 alone, airlines were paid $1.2 billion to fly nearly half a million troops and 161,000 tons of cargo to and from Iraq. Ten airlines received $636.2 million to transport troops between February and June. Another $574 million went to 14 airlines for moving freight. But Iraq was only a third of the business airlines received from the Department of Defense in 2003. They got another $2.4 billion for moving troops and cargo to other parts of the world. Most of the Iraq flights were by aircraft mobilized under the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program. In return for yearly payments, airlines participating in CRAF agree to provide certain aircraft and crews, for 30 days at a time, with as little as 24 hours' notice, in the event of a military mobilization. Rates paid the mobilized aircraft are set as well. For example, a typical mission would be a 330 seat DC-10 flying from Dover Air Force Base (a major military air transport center) in Delaware to Kuwait City, a 13,546-mile, round-trip flight. The Department of Defense paid $379,965 for this flight. This was more than the airlines were making for many similar commercial flights, because competitive pressures (from the recession, war fears and SARS) forced them to cut profit margins sharply. CRAF contracts guaranteed them a profit, the government not wanting to risk an airline going bankrupt while fulfilling these contracts. 


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