Here’s The Justification For FEMA Chartering The World’s Largest Jet To Rush Supplies To Guam

The emergency charter application states in part that “there is absolutely no comparable alternative to the use of Antonov’s AN-225 aircraft.”

byTyler Rogoway|
Americas photo


It has become an all too common sight in recent years. After storms blasts over islands with deadly force, gleaming white ex-Soviet cargo jets stuffed with everything from fire trucks to food supplies descend out of the heavens like obese angels of mercy. These chartered aircraft, usually belonging to Ukraine's Antonov Airlines, have served as vital, contracted air bridges in disaster and warzones alike over the last two and a half decades. But FEMA just executed an emergency charter of Antonov's biggest offering—also the largest airplane to ever take flight, the An-225 Mriya—in an attempt to rush supplies to Guam as Typhoon Mangkhut bears down on the Mariana Islands. 

The An-225 made one of its longest flights ever yesterday, from Kiev, Ukraine to Oakland, California—just over 6,100 miles and 13 hours flight time—giving bay area residents a big surprise as it roared into Oakland International in the late afternoon on September 9th, 2018. Then today, the sextuple-engine cargo hauler made the five and half hour flight to Hawaii. It will then head to Guam tomorrow. 

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Typhoon Mangkhut is hitting Guam now, with high winds and heavy rains threatening to cause major damage on the island and its neighbors, some of which are tiny and have little means to organically support extended emergency and storm recovery operations. 

The An-225 has been chartered by FEMA before. In 2009, it ferried generators to Pago Pago, American Samoa, to assist the island with electrical power restoration., David Gonzalez/FEMA  

Hawaii is also about to get slapped by Mother Nature. Hurricane Oliva, which is tracking west right towards the Hawaiian Islands, is set to make landfall late Tuesday. Currently, the storm is a category one hurricane. But Hawaii is far better supplied for a major natural disaster than the Mariana Islands. 

The flight was contracted on behalf of FEMA by Air Partner Inc. under an emergency request. The application, which was posted just two days ago, on September 8th, 2018, states:

Antonov Company t/a Antonov Airlines (“Antonov”) hereby applies for an emergency exemption pursuant to 49 U.S.C. §§ 40109(g) and 41703(c) to permit Antonov to operate a single one-way all-cargo charter flight transporting Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) relief supplies from San Francisco, CA (SFO) (or an alternate airfield in California) to Guam (GUM, GUA, or an alternate airfield in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), via Honolulu, HI (HNL), using Antonov’s peerless AN-225 “Mriya” super heavy transport aircraft, on or about September 10-12, 2018. 

Antonov is making this extraordinary request for the Department’s immediate consideration and approval on Saturday, September 8, 2018, based on a need to address urgent FEMA requirements for vital relief supplies to reach Guam in anticipation of potentially devastating impacts from Tropical Storm Mangkhut, which is predicted to intensify to typhoon strength as it approaches Guam early next week.

It then describes what the An-225 will be carrying:

Air Partner Inc. (“Air Partner”), acting on behalf of FEMA to arrange the urgent movement of critical relief supplies to Guam, has chartered Antonov to conduct a single AN-225 flight transporting FEMA goods to Guam on an expedited basis. At the time of this filing, the anticipated cargo includes approximately 140,000 kg of Meals Ready-to-Eat (“MRE”), water, and other essential items stored at a FEMA facility at Moffett Field, CA, which will be aggregated and loaded at SFO for shipment to Guam. Additional or alternate cargo might also be loaded, depending on developing FEMA priorities and the availability of supplies in the San Francisco and Honolulu areas.

At the controls of the world's biggest plane., Oleg V. Belyakov - AirTeamImages via Wikicommons

The document then goes on to justify why the An-225's unique capabilities were needed for this unique charter operation:

In light of the immediate need and uncertainties associated with emergency response airlift operations, flexibility to use the entire capacity of a single, well-timed flight using the voluminous AN-225 is warranted to maximize the amount and type of relief cargo that can be sent to Guam during a critically narrow timeframe. No U.S. air carrier can offer a comparable solution, and no other airplane in the fleet of Antonov or any other air carrier can match the capacity and flexibility that a single AN-225 flight can offer.

Although the cargo on the initial loading list could potentially be accommodated by multiple flights operated by U.S. air carriers, Antonov has been advised that it is being chartered to perform this single AN-225 flight based on an apparent shortage of sufficient U.S. air carrier lift, the immediate availability of the AN-225 (on stand-by at Antonov’s Gostomel, Ukraine (GML) base and ready to depart for SFO on Sunday morning), and FEMA’s need to transport the maximum possible volume of cargo in the shortest amount of time, with the greatest amount of flexibility to account for the various contingencies associated with emergency response and disaster relief activities.

The AN-225 is uniquely qualified to perform this flight not only because of the significant capacity of the aircraft, but also in light of its flexibility to load outsized cargo, such as emergency response vehicles, which might turn out to be needed on an urgent basis, not to mention the ability to load and unload the aircraft using the aircraft’s nose door and ramp system -- or even the exterior of the fuselage if necessary. In other words, there is absolutely no comparable alternative to the use of Antonov’s AN-225 aircraft.


Grant of this application is in the public interest. Transportation of MREs, drinking water, and potentially other relief supplies to Guam is necessary to support FEMA’s activities in Guam and the neighboring Mariana Islands, which could experience devastating impacts from Typhoon Mangkhut, including flooding, landslides, structural damage, power outages, and threats to human health and safety. Transportation of the cargo by U.S. air carriers is apparently not available and, depending on the volume and type of cargo, not possible, and transportation by ocean freighter would take far too long. It is therefore critical that Antonov be authorized to use its AN-225 aircraft to address the need for delivery of these supplies to Guam as soon as possible.

This pretty much lays out the business case for the An-225 and it serves as a stark reminder of why this singular aircraft's abilities are still highly valued. But one has to wonder about the U.S. military's role in all this. Were there really no C-17s and C-5s available to help out here? Were they really tasked on more important missions than one as critical as this? 

It's entirely possible that they are also doing everything they can to help out. Beyond the interests of local resident's well being, Guam is home to some of the most highly prized strategic outposts in the Pentagon's portfolio. So why exactly an An-225 was needed at all, despite commercial charter aircraft's availability, is an interesting question to ponder. It's also odd that the aircraft didn't just land at Moffett Field across the bay where the supplies were stored. 

All this is happening in the Pacific while in the Atlantic, Hurricane Florence is looking to become an incredibly perilous event for America's southeastern seaboard, with the Carolinas seemingly directly in its sights. Florence is already a category four storm, packing winds of at least 130 miles an hour and it really doesn't look like it will weaken. 


The storm is set to make landfall on Thursday and major evacuations have been ordered. This includes a large exodus on military hardware from a region packed with sprawling bases. Norfolk alone will see 30 of its resident vessels set to sea to avoid Florence's onslaught. Aircraft in the region are also migrating to safer locales, but not all ships or aircraft are capable of making the trip. 

What's most concerning is that there are two more hurricanes already spinning right behind Florence in something of a conga line of meteorological destruction. 


Although Antonov Airlines has already posted a shout out for potential charters in Asia following its Guam mission, it's possible that the An-225's ultra heavy lifting capabilities could be in high demand by FEMA in the days to come. Let's hope that's not the case, but it's good to know the mighty Mriya is available if needed.

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