From 2005 September

U.S. airlines on Friday teamed up to begin a massive airlift operation intended to carry 25,000 refugees out of the New Orleans disaster area.

Operation Air Care, which involves almost all of the major U.S. and Canadian passenger and cargo carriers, was set up by the Air Transport Association at the request of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. At the same time, FAA staff are working to keep the flow of aircraft through New Orleans Airport as high as possible.

The airlift began Friday morning and was scheduled to continue at least through Labor Day weekend, by which time a large proportion of the 25,000-person target should be achieved, an ATA spokesman said. No end-date was set for the operation. ATA President James May said the scale of the civilian airlift "is unprecedented in U.S. history," and airlines will "continue these efforts until they are no longer needed."

Friday's flights concentrated on ferrying refugees to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. An airline spokeswoman said that when Lackland cannot take any more people, the airlines will fly wherever FEMA or DHS directs them. A few carriers had already flown aircraft into New Orleans to help the relief effort before the airlift began.

The DHS approached ATA regarding the airlift on Thursday night, and ATA then polled its member airlines to find out how much capacity they could provide.

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