Korean aircraft lands at March Air Reserve Base, makes history

Soldiers from Fort Irwin Calif. board a Korean Air 747 at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., Wednesday. This marks the first time a Korean airlines aircraft has physically been exercised as part of the 26 year Mutual Airlift Support Agreement between the Department of Defense and the South Korean Air Force.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott, 452 AMW/PA)

Soldiers from Fort Irwin Calif., board a Korean Air 747 at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., March 21, 2007. This was the first time a Korean airlines aircraft has physically been exercised as part of the 26-year Mutual Airlift Support Agreement between the Department of Defense and the South Korean air force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott)

Soldiers from Fort Irwin, Calif., board a Korean Air 747 at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., Wednesday. This marks the first time a Korean airlines aircraft has physically been exercised as part of the 26 year Mutual Airlift Support Agreement between the Department of Defense and the South Korean Air Force.   (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott, 452 AMW/PA)

Soldiers from Fort Irwin, Calif., board a Korean Air 747 at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., March 21, 2007. This marks the first time a Korean airlines aircraft has physically been exercised as part of the 26-year Mutual Airlift Support Agreement between the Department of Defense and the South Korean air force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott)

Soldiers from Fort Irwin, Calif., get comfortable on a Korean Air  747 before it departs March Air Reserve Base, Calif.  The aircraft landed Wednesday at March ARB to pick up passengers making it the first time a Korean airlines aircraft physically has been exercised as part of the 26 year Mutual Airlift Support Agreement between the Department of Defense and the South Korean Air Force.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott, 452 AMW/PA)

Soldiers from Fort Irwin, Calif., get comfortable on a Korean Air 747 before it departs March Air Reserve Base, Calif. The aircraft landed at March ARB on March 21, 2007, to pick up passengers making it the first time a Korean airlines aircraft physically has been exercised as part of the 26-year Mutual Airlift Support Agreement between the Department of Defense and the South Korean air force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Amy Abbott)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- A Korean airlines 747 landed on the flight line at March Air Reserve Base Wednesday, making history as the first aircraft to fly under an airlift support agreement established in 1981 by the Department of Defense and South Korean Air Force.

Sung H. Kim, senior manager at Korean Air's traffic department in Los Angeles, said the exercise ran smoothly due largely to the cooperation between the various participants.

"We are excited as a commercial carrier of Korea," said Kim. "We contribute our service, our fleet and our manpower so the U.S. military can do its job. We are one part of that mission. We are proud."

The Mutual Airlift Support Agreement allows U.S. Transportation Command and DOD to gain operational control of several Korean Airlines aircraft to help augment U.S. airlift capacity in case of hostilities in South Korea.

"It was significantly revised in 2004 and in the 26 years it existed it's never been exercised by actually using Korean Airlines aircraft. This is a first," said Kevin Spradling, an international law attorney with the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott AFB, Ill.

"The theory is that we may need to put a lot of people into Korea quickly, or Japan - nearby. We'll need more airlift capacity and the (South) Koreans, because this is in support of hostilities on the Korean peninsula, have said 'OK, we will give you access to these airplanes,'" Spradling said. "The real value with this training is that it actually helps us make this a viable option."

Brig. Gen. James Melin, commander of the 452nd Air Mobility Wing at March, said the more "cooperative our global efforts are the more effective they will be. With the complex nature of world events today, any and all cooperation this country provides or receives from our partners around the world can only be a benefit to everyone involved."

Though the use of the airlines has been simulated in past exercises, this is the first time a Korean Air aircraft and crew have actually flown onto a U.S. mainland air base, picked up troops and deployed back to South Korea under the agreement.

"March Field's location, capacity and experienced personnel all make this the perfect logistical center for just such an operation," said General Melin. "This opportunity highlights how important this facility is to Southern California and the entire national defense strategy."

Military air fields were specifically chosen for the mission as opposed to commercial airports because they presented a more realistic challenge.
"We're already finding out all sorts of things," said Spradling. "For example, we have to worry about getting immigration clearance for the foreign crews on the airplanes coming. We have had to worry about paying for fuel and have set up accounts for them."

According to General Melin, the extensive value of this kind of training was evident even before the actual day of the flight.

"The coordination required in addressing the requirements and clearances that were needed was essential to meeting the actual flight portion of the event," he said. "There is nothing like realism in an exercise to place the focus on what needs to be done."

Korean Air completed its first mission March 11 by picking up 125 Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force at Kadena AB, Japan, and flying them to Osan AB, Korea. This short mission tested the overall concept of the agreement. This week's operation at March marks the first long range mission carried out from the continental United States.

The Korean Air 747 landed at Altus AFB, Okla., Wednesday morning and picked up 78 troops, then came to March and picked up 192 soldiers from Fort Irwin, Calif. The plane then flew to Gimha AB, South Korea.

The troops will stay in South Korea for several weeks to participate in Foal Eagle, an annual training exercise. A Korean aircraft will complete the training by bringing the troops back to the U.S.
"The civilian airline industry has always stepped forward to provide the personnel airlift that goes along with the cargo and equipment our aircraft are able to transport when this nation reacts to any situation in the world," said General Melin.

Spradling said he thinks the plan is to exercise Korean airlines at least once or twice a year.

"We have identified a lot of problems," he said. "They're all solvable, but it's the kind of thing you have to do to find out what the issues are."


Approximately two months ago a temporary working group was created at U.S. Transportation Command to "put this together, monitor execution, and then come up with a lessons learned report that catalogs the issues, solutions, recommendations - that kind of thing," said Spradling.

U.S. Transportation Command will have a follow-on meeting with the Korean Air Force in June to discuss how to improve procedures from both the U.S. and Korean perspective.

Spradling said that all sides have been pleased with the progress and are optimistic about the outcome.

The Koreans "view this as a unique opportunity for them and have been eager to do it," Spradling said. "Everybody, from Korean Air, the Korean Air Force and DOD have all wanted to exercise this capability so it was kind of a win - win situation for everybody."