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A government contract flight is a type of charter airline operation contracted with a government agency.

In the United States, the massive mobility requirements during World War II proved that military transport could not meet all the logistical needs that might arise. As a result, the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) was developed to use airline capacity to provide maximum airlift support in wartime situations. As a benefit, airlines that commit planes to CRAF are able to receive peacetime government contracts in an amount proportional to the airline's potential wartime mobilization value. This is the basis for most routine military charter flights. The government receives an extremely economical source of emergency capacity as well as reasonable costs for peacetime military transportation.

United States passenger operations[edit]

See also: Patriot Express

Most American government contract flights are sponsored by the military. While many of them are used to move cargo, some are operated as scheduled airline services. These flights are virtually identical to standard airline flights, complete with flight attendants, meal service, and in-flight movies. A contract flight returning from an overseas area is often referred to as a freedom bird, since it usually carries military members who are returning to the United States after what is commonly a one to three-year tour of duty. The service onboard during the Vietnam war was very spartan and did not offer the amenities mentioned above.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the hub for most military charters was Travis Air Force Base and McChord Air Force Base on the west coast and McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey and Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina on the east coast. These bases connected to a number of foreign hubs, which included Yokota Air Base in Japan and Rhein-Main Air Base in Europe. Starting in the 1980s the military shifted many of its domestic hubs from military bases to commercial airports to better integrate its transportation network with scheduled airline service, thereby avoiding the logistical headaches of transporting passengers between airports and air bases. By 1984 McGuire AFB was replaced with Philadelphia International Airport, and Charleston AFB was replaced with Charleston International Airport. By 1997, Philadelphia was replaced with BWI, Maryland and Charleston International Airport replaced with Atlanta, Georgia .

Historically, services were provided to each military theater as follows:

  • Turkey. Through the early 1980s, charters were not scheduled into Incirlik Air Base; passengers had to connect to Rhein Main AB via C-141 Starlifter. This changed in the early 1990s when ATA Airlines L-1011 service was provided via Rhein Main or Italy.
  • Azores/Spain/Italy. One major trunk route used since the 1990s (Norfolk - Lajes - Rota - Naples - Sigonella) using ATA Airlines Boeing 757 planes. Another route (Baltimore - Lajes - Aviano) uses ATA Airlines L-1011 aircraft.
  • Saudi Arabia. During the 1990s an important trunk route originated in Baltimore (Baltimore - Rhein-Main Air Base - Riyadh). Service to Kuwait used ATA Airlines L-1011 aircraft (Baltimore - Lajes AB - Aviano AB - Kuwait).
  • Iceland. During the 60's and 70's various airlines did the contract route from McGuire AFB, NJ. In 1988, Hawaiian Airlines operated the Norfolk NAS - Philadelphia IAP - Keflavik NAS route using DC-8-62 aircraft once a week. By 1994 the route was being operated by American Trans Air utilizing 757 aircraft along with L-1011s with Rich International supplementing the service. The route was moved to Baltimore when the Philadelphia AMC operation was shut down. By 2000 the service was being operated by Miami Air 737-800s from BWI to KEF. All charter flights were ended in 2005 and all US Forces are scheduled to leave the Keflavik NATO base by 30 Sep 2006.

Noteworthy disasters involving a military charter flight include:

  • March 15, 1962: A Flying Tiger Line Constellation crashed while en route from Guam to the Philippines, killing all 107 aboard. The cause was not determined. It remains the worst single Constellation accident to date.
  • November 27, 1970: A Capitol International Airways DC-8 crashed at Anchorage, Alaska when its brakes locked and caught fire; 47 out of 229 were killed.
  • December 12, 1985: A DC-8, Arrow Air Flight 1285, crashed at Gander, Newfoundland killing all 256 aboard.

Since 1990, scheduled military passenger services have been operated by ATA, World Airways, Evergreen International, Northwest Airlines, Rich International, Sun Country, Tower Air, TWA, ATI, Carnival Air Lines and Omni Air International.

United States cargo operations[edit]

The government relies on a number of cargo operators to supplement its own airlift fleet. Contractors include Airlift International, World Airways, and Evergreen International Aviation. On March 23, 1974 an Airlift International DC-8-63 burned at Travis Air Force Base when fuel caught fire during maintenance.

By the 1990s, government contract services for freight were operated by American International, Burlington Air Express, ABX Air, Emery Worldwide, Evergreen International, FedEx, Northwest Airlines, Rich International, Southern Air Transport, Tower Air, TWA, ATI, United Parcel Service, World Airways and Omni Air International.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Patriot Express Town Hall (USFK website)" (PDF). Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "Patriot Express (USFK website)". Retrieved 24 June 2010. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_contract_flight — Please support Wikipedia.
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