Vision Airlines - Back in the Air Bridge War Business at Shannon?

Vision Airlines Boeing 767, registration N661CS at Shannon on 3rd December

On Wednesday 3rd December, on the way to Ennis District Court where TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace were appearing as a result of their efforts to promote peace, Shannonwatch stopped off at the airport and photographed two US warplanes. One was a US Navy Hercules C-130T registration 164993/BD and the other was a C-40 (also US Navy). Coincidentally this is the same type of aircraft that were at Shannon airport on the day that Clare and Mick Wallace went in to do their search and investigation.

Tucked away at Gate 42, which is where the chartered aircraft that transport US troops through Shannon normally park, Shannonwatch also spotted a white Boeing 737, registration N661CS. This is owned by a Texas company called Spectre Air Capital LLC but is operated by an airline called Vision Airlines. The name may not mean a lot to people who watch planes come in and out of Shannon but for a period between 2005 and 2010 their jets averaged two flights a week from Dulles, Virginia to Iraq and Afghanistan. These flights were linked to the US government's "Air Bridge Program" which assisted the flow of military personnel, equipment and materiel needed to support the war in Afghanistan and the continuing operations in Iraq.

The Navy Times described the Air Bridge Program as follows:

"Each day, everything from guns and ammunition to food and medical supplies travel along the military's air bridge between the United States and Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

National Guard and Reserve units in Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania with special skills in refueling planes in midair keep the vital traffic flowing both ways across the Atlantic Ocean."

Vision contracted its services to another company called Computer Sciences Corporation (later McNeil Technologies) to provide transportation for the Air Bridge Program. A John L. Smith article in the Las Vegas Review Journal described what they did as follows:

"As a government contractor, North Las Vegas-based Vision Airlines has successfully operated in the shadow world that accompanies flying CIA, State Department and Blackwater personnel from the United States to Baghdad and Kabul."

The Smith article also revealed that when the US deported Russian spies to Vienna, the ousted operatives flew Vision Airlines. Vision's aircraft were also reportedly used in the US's extraordinary rendition program, in which suspected terrorists were illegally abducted by CIA operatives and flown for interrogation purposes to countries that practiced torture.

Another interesting revelation in the Smith article is that a US District Court verdict awarded the airline's former pilots and flight attendants more than $4.5 million in back hazard pay arising from flights that regularly arrived in Kabul and Baghdad after dark without cockpit lighting to avoid detection by insurgents. Unfortunately the employees' attorneys didn't try to identify who used Vision's air service. But what we do know is that the airline was willing to mislead the Court in order avoid producing relevant, possibly critical, discovery material.

According to the court documents Vision based its US government freight loading and unloading operation in different cities. For a time goods were loaded and unloaded in Frankfurt, Germany. In 2006 it relocated the operation to Bucharest, Romania, and it 2007 it moved to Bratislava in Slovakia. At that point it replaced its Boeings 737 with 767s. Throughout 2007 Vision aircraft kept on trasnsporting "diplomatic and other personnel" to and from Kabul and Baghdad. In the spring of 2008 it operated from Bucharest again.

More recently, i.e. in the last few months, we know that the Vision aircraft seen at Shannon on Wednesday morning has flown in and out of RAF Brize Norton. This is home to the RAF's Strategic and Tactical Air Transport and Air-to-Air Refueling forces, as well as host to many lodger and reserve units. Coincidentally - or perhaps not - we've seen an increase in US aerial refuellers at Shannon in recent months. Might it be that our airport is now being used by the likes of Vision Airlines to once again provide air bridge and refuelling services for the CIA and other US government agencies operating "in the shadow world", outside the rule of international law?

These are the type of questions our government and their law enforcement authorities should be answering. But they're not.

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