The White House may invoke the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, which was created in 1952 to assist the military during emergencies following the post-World War II Berlin Airlift. The program could facilitate almost 20 commercial jets from five airlines to help transport evacuees from bases in the region, according to the official.
Another senior administration official told CNN that the commercial jets wouldn’t be flying into Afghanistan but instead would be helping to transport Afghans from locations where they were taken after being evacuated from the country, including US bases in Qatar, Bahrain and Germany.
At least 26,500 people, which includes Afghans and foreign nationals, have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban began its advance on Kabul, according to data analyzed by CNN Saturday.
A senior administration official told CNN the government would first try to get airlines to volunteer aircraft to help transport Afghan evacuees before forcing them.
“We need each major airline to offer up three planes, and get a few from FedEx. If they don’t, we may use the law,” the official said.
An airline industry official said discussions among carriers have been underway since the end of the week about potentially providing assistance to the airlift efforts, and they have not ruled out voluntarily offering flights yet.
That official also said airlines received a warning on Friday evening from the government that they could be compelled to provide assistance, but that the order hasn’t yet come down.
The White House referred to the Committee on Transportation Communications for comment. CNN has reached out.