Air Transportation: Air Freight to Iraq

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May 3,2008: The U.S. Department of Defense will be spending nearly $300 million a month, on commercial air transportation services, this year. That's over $3 billion a year. Last year, over $3 billion was spent, compared to about $2.3 billion yearly in 2005 and 2006. Rising fuel prices account for most of the cost increases.

Most of the military cargo 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. There, the U.S. spends over $70 million a month for air transportation. A new program has shifted about a quarter of that 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, are running 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 it 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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