America's commercial airlines have flown most of the troops and much of the military cargo to the Persian Gulf, but the airlift duties have apparently caused only minor disruption to regular service.
"The schedules really haven't been affected so far. There are enough pilots, and the airplanes have been able to be juggled around enough to accommodate the government obligation as well as the obligation to passengers," said Kathleen Henriques, spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association.Twenty-eight U.S. airlines are currently part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, required as part of their government contracts to make some of their planes available in times of crisis.
Since Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, the U.S. armed forces have airlifted more than 371,000 people to the gulf - with 63 percent traveling on the commercial planes - according to the Military Aircraft Command. Commercial airlines also have carried 24 percent of the 346,000 tons of cargo flown to Saudi Arabia.
Airlines, which are making available a total of 41 planes, said they are avoiding problems with their regular service by rerouting some flights, putting more passengers on planes, substituting smaller aircraft for larger ones and working with competitors.
"Virtually all the airlines participating in this have had minor scheduling disruptions, but there's been pretty good cooperation among the carriers," said Alan Loflin, spokesman for Pan Am Corp.
"If there's a cancellation and they can't cover the cancellation themselves, the passengers are sent to another airline," he said.
Pan Am, which is making three 747s available for the airlift, has flown 85 trips taking soldiers to the Middle East since August and is scheduled to make 12 more.
United Airlines also reported no serious disruptions as a result of its obligations but declined to give specifics, saying the government had asked it not to. Trans World Airlines also declined comment.
Delta Air Lines has four aircraft ready but has not been called on yet for the airlift, said spokesman Neil Monroe.
The Military Aircraft Command prefers to pay commercial airlines for the use of their planes to move troops because most of its aircraft are designed to carry equipment and supplies, said command spokesman Master Sgt. Chuck Jones.
The reserve fleet could be expanded if needed, from the 41 planes now on call to a total of 475, Jones said. He doubted more planes will be called into service, however.