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Military leaders worry about health of commercial airlines

Army Gen. Stephen Lyons (US Army/WikiCommons)

The Pentagon will continue to use commercial airlines to evacuate Americans trapped overseas amid the coronavirus pandemic, in part to support a hard-hit industry that provides important military capability, the general in charge of the military’s global logistics efforts said Tuesday.

“I am concerned to some degree about the impacts on the passenger segment of the aviation industry.” Army Gen. Stephen Lyons, head of U.S. Transportation Command, said during a Tuesday briefing. “Any opportunity we have to push workload in their direction, we’re doing that. We’re doing that largely with the repatriation efforts and other efforts of that sort.”

TRANSCOM uses 25 cargo and passenger airlines to augment its own military transports. Airlines that are part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet ferry troops and cargo around the world.

“On the cargo side, the civil aviation fleet is really going pretty strong. On the passenger side, as you can imagine, it has dropped off significantly,” Lyons said. “As we take on missions, we’re specifically looking for opportunities to workload our commercial partners.”

Lyons’ comments come just days after Miami Air International, a Civil Reserve Air Fleet member, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. The small charter airline — which flies professional and college sports teams on its leased Boeing 737 aircraft — said that coronavirus has wiped out all of its business except for military flights.

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“Like all other airlines, Miami Air has experienced a rapid decline in bookings and an increase in cancellations to the point where Miami Air’s retail flight [operations] have ceased for the foreseeable future,” the company said in a bankruptcy court filing. “However, Miami Air continues to operate certain flights for the United States military under its Civil Reserve Air Fleet program.”

American Airlines, another member of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, plans to retire dozens of jets in response to the coronavirus downturn, Reuters reported Tuesday.

While there are still thousands of planes flying in the United States each day, airlines have slashed schedules and grounded thousands more as fewer people fly amid the coronavirus outbreak. Consulting firm Cirium estimates that 40 percent of the world’s airliners are currently grounded, while the rest are logging half their usual flight hours.

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(c) 2020 By National Journal Group, Inc.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.