Afghanistan’s Ariana Eyes Six More Aircraft

Ariana Afghan Airlines has issued a request for proposals (RFP) to purchase six new aircraft. Contained within the proposal are four widebody aircraft and two turboprops. The airline is looking for submissions by next Wednesday, February 26th.

Ariana A310
Ariana is seeking six new planes, including four widebodies. Photo: Dmitry Terekhov via Wikimedia

Ariana wants more widebodies

Details of the tender proposal were seen and reported by CH-Aviation yesterday. Within the document, details of the aircraft Ariana is seeking were identified as being four widebody aircraft and two turboprops.

Specifically, Ariana is looking for proposals for two Boeing 767-300ERs, two Airbus A330-200s and two Bombardier Dash 8-300s. An order of this magnitude would effectively double Ariana’s fleet from the current level, which is reported on Planespotters to be just six aircraft at the moment.

Ariana 737
Most of Ariana’s fleet are 737s. Photo: Papas Dos via Wikimedia

Even more interestingly, this would be a massive uptick in both capacity and fleet capabilities for the Afghan airline. Right now, it only has two widebodies in its fleet, a Boeing 767-200, which is showing as being leased and is 31 years old, and one 31-year-old A310-300.

Aside from these, Ariana’s aircraft are all narrowbody planes. Planespotters reports that it has four Boeing 737s; three -400s and one -500, both well over 20 years old. While the Dash 8s will be a good replacement for its aging 737s on its shorter routes, the addition of four new widebodies is more of a puzzle.

What does Ariana Afghan Airlines want with four new widebodies?

The RFP for four new widebodies smacks of some serious long haul ambitions for the Afghan airline. However, we know for sure where they won’t be flying these aircraft, as the airline is still banned from operating in European airspace.

Right now, the airline operates to three domestic and just seven international destinations. These are within Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and India. Most of its routes operate out of Kabul. However, things weren’t always that way.

Ariana destination map
Ariana’s current route network. Image: Ariana Afghan Airlines

Back in the 1970s, Ariana Afghan flew as far afield as Rome (with a couple of stops on the way), using a Boeing 727. It also flew to destinations in Czechia, Germany, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Iran and even to the UK.

The outbreak of war in Afghanistan ceased all international flights until 2002, when the airline launch its first international flight to Herat in five years. In February 2004, Afghanistan signed an agreement to rebuild the war-damaged and outdated Kabul International Airport, accepting offers of assistance from NATO, the World Bank, the International Civil Aviation Organisation and other agencies in completing work estimated to cost between $40m and $60m in total.

Ariana Afghan Airlines 727
Ariana’s Boeing 727 operated the first international flight in five years back in 2002. Photo: Getty

As such, Ariana has been working on rebuilding its network to provide better connectivity to Kabul.

Where could Ariana fly its widebodies?

While European destinations remain off the table for now, the airline could look East for more long haul operations.

Looking at FlightRadar24’s route map from Kabul Airport, we can see that the airport is wildly underserved to anywhere outside of the Middle East and India. While we have no notification from Ariana Afghan about where they could be targeting with these new aircraft, the rapidly growing aviation marketplace of the Far East would be a strong candidate for flights.

The current route network from Kabul. Image: FlightRadar24

Right now, the most popular destination from Kabul is Dubai, with 162 flights per month operated mostly by Emirates. From  Dubai, passengers can connect onwards to hundreds of worldwide destinations via the extensive Emirates network.

Perhaps Ariana has spotted an opportunity here to cut out the middle man and provide a direct connection to destinations in the East. Right now, we have no route filing or schedule for the airline to go on, so this is pure speculation.

What do you think? Where should Ariana fly its incoming 767s and A330s from Kabul? Let us know in the comments.