The Air Force has awarded a contract to a commercial airliner to fly the remains of fallen troops home from Dover Air Force Base, Del., said Air Force Brig. Gen. Frederick F. Roggero of Air Mobility Command.

Until now, fallen U.S. troops have been transported home along with other cargo on commercial aircraft, but that practice drew criticism in 2005 when officials denied the request from the family of a soldier killed in Iraq to have an honor guard unload his casket from a commercial airliner.

In October, Congress required that the Defense Department use military or restricted private aircraft to take troops’ remains home from Dover beginning Jan. 1.

The contract, worth up to $11 million, was awarded Dec. 13 to Kalitta Charters, LLC, of Ypsilanti, Mich., Roggero said in a Thursday e-mail to Stars and Stripes. The contract goes into effect on Jan. 1 for up to six months while a long-term contract is worked out, he said.

“Kalitta Charters will have 4 Falcon 20 aircraft located at Dover providing dedicated airlift transportation of Human Remains,” he said. “A military servicemember will continuously escort the remains to the appropriate destination.”

Under the terms of the contract, the company will fly only the troops’ remains, not cargo, Roggero said.

“The National Defense Authorization Act allows an aircraft to transport the remains of more than one servicemember,” he said.

Fallen troops’ caskets will continue to be transported in “honor covers,” which are special flag-embossed containers with graphics of the Defense Department insignia, Roggero said.

“ ‘Honor covers’ or ‘air trays’ as they’re also called, will be used to protect the casket from nicks and other damage as well to alert ground personnel with distinctive markings,” Roggero said.

The covers were initially used to make sure that fallen troops’ caskets were treated with care by commercial air crews after two instances in which the remains were not handled correctly, the director of the Army Casualty and Mortuary Operations Center said last month.

“We don’t want them coming off mixed with luggage and handled in an improper way because someone on the ground didn’t realize what’s going on,” Army Col. Pat Gawkins told reporters in November.

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