Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered six commercial airlines to provide passenger jets to help with the growing U.S. military operation evacuating Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul, the Afghan capital, the Pentagon said on Sunday.
Mr. Austin activated Stage 1 of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, created in 1952 after the Berlin airlift, to provide 18 airliners to help ferry passengers arriving at bases in the Middle East from Afghanistan, John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
The current activation is for 18 planes: four from United Airlines; three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; and two from Hawaiian Airlines.
The Pentagon does not anticipate a major impact to commercial flights, Mr. Kirby said.
Capt. John Perkins, a spokesman for the military’s Transportation Command, said on Sunday that the commercial airliners would begin service on Monday or Tuesday and that they would fly evacuees both from the Middle East to Europe and from Europe to the United States.
Captain Perkins said in a telephone interview that the military had requested wide-bodied, long-haul aircraft capable of carrying several hundred passengers. He said that discussions started with the airlines last week and that some carriers had volunteered planes for the evacuation. But, he added, the demand was great enough for Mr. Austin to order more airlines to honor their obligations under the reserve fleet program.
Civilian planes would not fly into or out of Kabul, where a rapidly deteriorating security situation has hampered evacuation flights. Instead, commercial airline pilots and crews would help transport thousands of Afghans who are arriving at U.S.
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