Fighting the Virus From the Air: The 618th Air Operations Center in Action


In late 2019, the world began to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and follow measures to mitigate its effects. When the virus began to spread, the 618th Air Operations Center (AOC) sprang into action.

The team of 700 active duty, civilian, Guard, and reserve personnel who make up the 618 AOC provide global command and control over the U.S. Transportation Command’s air mobility missions. They work around the clock to support the full spectrum of global mobility missions, such as strategic airlift, air refueling, and aeromedical evacuation, to name a few. Their mission since March 2020 has become transporting patients with COVID-19, as well as vaccines and equipment, across the world.

In addition to allocating and controlling aircraft to deliver vaccines, test kits, ventilators, and refrigerating units worldwide, the 618 AOC also played a key role in bringing American citizens home at the start of the pandemic.

The 618 AOC has made use of the Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC), as well as the Transportation Isolation System (TIS) and the NPC-Lite, to relocate patients. These pressurized biocontainment units (BCUs) are metal shipping containers used to transport patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections while protecting the aircrew from the virus during flights. For an in-depth look at NPC and NPC-Lite units, review the diagrams at https://airman.dodlive. mil/2021/02/24/negative-for-covid/.

The 618 AOC uses the NPC as a ready-response medical transport asset to evacuate up to 23 infected, or suspected to be infected, patients with COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the 618 AOC has facilitated 21 TIS missions and 46 NPC missions, totaling 326 patients transported using BCUs.

In the later stages of the pandemic, the focus has become vaccinating the world population against the virus. Even during this phase, the 618 AOC has been called to action, using their skills, experience, and training to accomplish this additional task.

The 618 AOC utilizes channel lanes and existing missions to deliver lifesaving vaccines on time and to various locations around the world.

Air Mobility Command (AMC) has issued guidelines for personnel related to wearing masks and screening passengers. In addition, the AMC website1 includes precautions for those traveling to specific countries based on the restrictions those countries have instituted for entry. As a team with a global mission, the 618 AOC has adopted the Department of Defense mandated requirements and procedures into their operations to maximize the safety of flight personnel.

All NPC teams receive extensive training and take all appropriate precautions to protect aircrews and their passengers. One such precaution includes NPC ground personnel decontaminating all aircraft involved in NPC movements after mission completion.

Although the 618 AOC has always prioritized the safe and timely execution of mission requirements, the virus has added a new level of complexity to their duties. They have not only met these expectations for safety, the team has also managed to complete their missions on time, with built-in allowances for the new procedures.

Preflight procedures and ground times for NPC missions are longer than those for non-COVID AE (aeromedical evacuation) missions due to the complexity of the equipment and the time and attention needed to ensure the safe loading and transportation of patients.

The additional time needed when conducting NPC missions is built into the mission timeline to maintain on-time departures and arrivals.

With ever-changing requirements within an often unpredictable environment, one of the keys to accomplishing important missions during the pandemic has been the 618 AOC’s flexibility and commitment to minimizing mission risk.

As the pandemic progressed, changing entry and exit requirements for several countries forced the 618 AOC to reroute NPC missions. The 618 AOC has also supplemented or heavily modified NPC teams to meet the demands of extended mobility missions and minimize the risk to personnel.

In addition to doing their part as global citizens by following various health and safety guidelines, the team’s efforts, from transporting hundreds of patients during the pandemic to delivering more than 38,000 vaccines to 11 overseas locations, have been vital in fighting the COVID-19 virus. Some would say their success has been due to their “resilience and expert efficacy.”

The 618th Air Operations Center has been an essential player in the COVID-19 response and relief effort. Despite operating in an ever-changing environment under increased mission demands, the men and women of the 618 AOC have continued to demonstrate their resilience and expert efficacy when supporting global mobility missions. The 618 AOC’s performance during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates its ability to continue supporting warfighters, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year, whenever and wherever they are needed.

  1. Coronavirus/