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.
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 on board 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 (AFB) 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 Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI), Maryland and Charleston International Airport replaced with Atlanta, Georgia.
Historically, services were provided to each military theater as follows:
Noteworthy disasters involving a military charter flight include:
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.
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.
Kalitta Air is an American cargo airline headquartered in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. The company operates international scheduled and cargo charter services. Its main base is Willow Run Airport near Ypsilanti. Its call sign "Connie" is from its founder Connie Kalitta.
Berlin Tegel "Otto Lilienthal" Airport was the primary international airport of Berlin, the federal capital of Germany. The airport was named after Otto Lilienthal and was the fourth busiest airport in Germany, with over 24 million passengers in 2019. In 2016, Tegel handled over 60% of all airline passenger traffic in Berlin. The airport served as a base for Eurowings, Ryanair as well as easyJet. It featured flights to several European metropolitan and leisure destinations as well as some intercontinental routes. It was situated in Tegel, a section of the northern borough of Reinickendorf, eight kilometres northwest of the city centre of Berlin. Tegel Airport has been notable for its hexagonal main terminal building around an open square, which made walking distances as short as 30 m (100 ft) from the aircraft to the terminal exit.
Arrow Air was an American passenger and cargo airline based in Building 712 on the grounds of Miami International Airport (MIA) in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, Florida. At different times over the years, it operated over 90 weekly scheduled cargo flights, had a strong charter business and at one point operated scheduled international and domestic passenger flights. Its main base was Miami International Airport. Arrow Air ceased operations on June 29, 2010, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 1, 2010. It was then liquidated.
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is a commercial and military-use airport in Savannah, Georgia, United States. Savannah/Hilton Head International provides travelers with access to Savannah, Georgia, and Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, as well as neighboring areas including Bluffton and Beaufort, South Carolina and the Golden Isles region of Coastal Georgia.
Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport is a public airport six miles (10 km) east of downtown Amarillo, in Potter and Randall Counties, Texas, United States. The airport was renamed in 2003 after NASA astronaut and Amarillo native Rick Husband, who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in February of that year.
World Airways, Inc. was an American airline headquartered in Peachtree City, Georgia in Greater Atlanta. For the most part, the company operated non-scheduled services. World Airways ceased all operations on March 27, 2014.
Capitol Air was a charter airline in the United States which was operational from 1946 to its bankruptcy filing on November 23, 1984. It was founded as Capitol Airways in 1946, and then renamed Capitol International Airways in 1967. In 1981, the airline changed its name to Capitol Air.
Pacific Western Airlines Ltd (PWA) was an airline that operated scheduled flights throughout western Canada and charter services around the world from the 1950s through the 1980s.
Dan-Air was an airline based in the United Kingdom and a wholly owned subsidiary of London shipbroking firm Davies and Newman. It was started in 1953 with a single aircraft. Initially, it operated cargo and passenger charter flights from Southend (1953–1955) and Blackbushe airports (1955–1960) using a variety of piston-engined aircraft before moving to a new base at Gatwick Airport in 1960, followed by expansion into inclusive tour (IT) charter flights and all-year round scheduled services. The introduction of two de Havilland Comet series 4 jet aircraft in 1966 made Dan-Air the second British independent airline after British United Airways to begin sustained jet operations.
Flying Tiger Line, also known as Flying Tigers, was the first scheduled cargo airline in the United States and a major military charter operator during the Cold War era for both cargo and personnel. The airline was bought by Federal Express in 1988.
Trans International Airlines (TIA) was an airline that offered charter service from and within the United States. It also operated scheduled passenger service flying as Transamerica Airlines as well as charter flights during its last decade. Its headquarters were on the grounds of Oakland International Airport (OAK) in Oakland, California.
Cheyenne Regional Airport is a civil-military airport a mile north of downtown Cheyenne, in Laramie County, Wyoming. It is owned by the Cheyenne Regional Airport Board.
Daytona Beach International Airport is a county-owned airport located three miles (5 km) southwest of Daytona Beach, next to Daytona International Speedway, in Volusia County, Florida, United States. The airport has 3 runways, a six-gate domestic terminal, and an international terminal. Daytona Beach is the headquarters of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Rhein-Main Air Base was a United States Air Force air base near the city of Frankfurt, Germany. It was a Military Airlift Command (MAC) and United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) installation, occupying the south side of Frankfurt Airport. Its military airport codes are discontinued. Established in 1945, Rhein-Main Air Base was the primary airlift and passenger hub for United States forces in Europe. It was billed as the "Gateway to Europe". It closed on 30 December 2005.
The Military Airlift Command (MAC) is an inactive United States Air Force major command (MAJCOM) that was headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. Established on 1 January 1966, MAC was the primary strategic airlift organization of the Air Force until 1974, when Air Force tactical airlift units in the Tactical Air Command (TAC) were merged into MAC to create a unified airlift organization.
The Military Air Transport Service (MATS) is an inactive Department of Defense Unified Command. Activated on 1 June 1948, MATS was a consolidation of the United States Navy's Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) and the United States Air Force's Air Transport Command (ATC) into a single joint command. It was inactivated and discontinued on 8 January 1966, superseded by the Air Force's Military Airlift Command (MAC) as a separate strategic airlift command, and it returned shore-based Navy cargo aircraft to Navy control as operational support airlift (OSA) aircraft.
Airlift International was an American airline that operated from 1945 to 1991. Airlift's headquarters were on the grounds of Miami International Airport in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, Florida.
Slick Airways was a cargo airline from the United States, that operated scheduled and chartered flights between 1946 and 1966. The airline was founded by Earl Slick, a Texas aviator and multimillionaire who along with his brother had inherited $25 million after their father's death in 1930.
The Patriot Express (PE), formerly known as a CAT B flight, is a United States government contract flight which provides support to United States Armed Forces members and their families. Flights are operated by various commercial airlines and provide service worldwide, mainly across the Pacific and Europe.
Eastern Airlines, LLC is a U.S. airline founded in 2010. Eastern operates Boeing 767s and Boeing 777s. It began as Dynamic Airways and later added "International" to its name to reflect its transition from a charter airline into scheduled international services. Under the Dynamic name, the airline was headquartered in High Point, North Carolina, offering service from New York to South America. It used to operate from Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York to the Caribbean, Cancun, and South America.