As the Taliban take control of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, the impact on aviation has been extreme. From desperate attempts to evacuate as many people as possible to heartbreaking scenes of desperation at the airport, the situation is going from bad to worse.
Airspace shuts down
As the situation on the ground in Kabul continued to deteriorate, a NOTAM was issued, dictating that the airspace above the nation was no longer under control.
A Notam was issued for the Kabul FIR (Afghanistan airspace), declaring Kabul ACC is 'declared to military'.
Any flights will be in un-controlled airspace 'at their own risk'. #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/DBvFey2EhA
— Aviation Safety Network (ASN) (@AviationSafety) August 16, 2021
The Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) issued the NOTAM advising all passenger aircraft to reroute away from Afghani airspace. While this doesn’t constitute an absolute closure of airspace, it means flights would operate with no ATC support and could be at risk if they choose to overfly the country.
Turkish arrives to evacuate
Turkish Airlines flew into Kabul earlier today, landing as TK706 from Istanbul. Landing at 04:43 this morning, the flight was an evacuation service, attempting to get as many people out of the city as possible.
The Boeing 777 was set to be the last passenger flight out of Kabul, as the airspace shut down to commercial flights. It expected to be on the ground for less than an hour but was forced to return to the terminal on its first taxi to the runway.
Currently Turkish Airlines #TK707 seems to have attempted a take-off from #Kabul airport in #Afghanistan but aborted it and returned to the ramp. It should be the last passenger flight from the airport in the moment. Other airlines cancelled their flights into KBL. #Boeing777 pic.twitter.com/6f70ZaNaGV
— Emil | #TeamBioNTech (@whereisemil) August 16, 2021
The likely reason for this was the hundreds of people who had infiltrated the airport and were blocking the runway. The military has been using Apache helicopters in an attempt to clear the runway for departing flights.
Finally, after a short wait, TK707 was in the air. The flight is currently on its way back to Istanbul with an unknown number of passengers onboard.
Air India cancels flight, reroutes others
Air India was due to operate AI234 to Kabul earlier today but canceled the service at the last minute. The authorities at Kabul Airport had just declared that the Afghani airspace had become ‘uncontrolled.’ The final flight out of Kabul on Air India saw 129 passengers evacuated on Sunday evening.
Other Air India flights were noted to make abrupt route changes as the airspace was declared unsafe. AI216 from Chicago to Delhi rapidly exited Afghan airspace this morning, heading to Sharjah as an alternative. There, the aircraft will refuel, before heading on to India by a circuitous route.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) August 16, 2021
Its San Francisco to Delhi flight also had to be rerouted to the UAE.
However, Air India reportedly has two aircraft and crew on standby to operate evacuation services from the country. Captain T Praveen Keerthi, General Secretary of Air India Pilots Association (ICPA), shared a note to the Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia shared by Mint which read,
“We would like to inform you that our pilots are ready to operate Evacuation Flights in the service of our country. Our pilots are ready and willing to go above and beyond to evacuate our Indians. Being a Patriotic and responsible union, the ICPA would extend complete support and cooperation to evacuate the precious lives of the people of our country from Afghanistan. You can count on us.”
Operation Solomon part two?
While passenger flights are restricted, military operators have been doing their best to get as many people as possible out of the city. A C-17 Globemaster was reported to have left in the early hours of the morning with 800 passengers onboard.
Update: can confirm this is the correct number expected to be aboard… 800 souls outbound USAF C-17A RCH871 from Kabul, Afghanistan!
— Evergreen Intel (@vcdgf555) August 15, 2021
While that’s not quite the 1,080 that were evacuated during Operation Solomon on an El Al Being 747, it’s still a significant number. More packed flights like this are likely to take place as military powers attempt to evacuate as many as possible, but not everyone is going to get their flight home.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace spoke to LBC this morning, almost breaking down as he admitted that not everyone would make it back. Around 4,000 British nationals and eligible Afghans are thought to be in Kabul awaiting repatriation.
— LBC (@LBC) August 16, 2021
Kam Air A340 stormed by civilians
A Kam Air A340 on the ground at the airport became a target for people trying to escape. Earlier today, civilians could be seen clambering up to the jet bridge in an attempt to gain access to the aircraft.
Scuffles broke out at Kabul airport after commercial departures were abruptly halted on Sunday.
Hundreds have been waiting at the airport to board evacuation flights after the Taliban seized all major cities in Afghanistan.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) August 16, 2021
Later footage shows the A340 with people standing on its fuselage.
🇦🇫 Désolations à l’aéroport de Kaboul. De nombreux civils tentent de fuir l’Afghanistan au plus vite.
Un Airbus A340 de Kam Air a été pris d’assaut par des civils.
— air plus news (@airplusnews) August 16, 2021
Thankfully, the Kam Air crew managed to escape Kabul on a Boeing 737 that was parked in a separate area of the airport. Among the passengers were the six crew members of the airline’s first all-female crewed flight. The aircraft landed safely in Iran, and crew were evacuated to Ukraine.
Scenes from #kabul airport. Everyone is trying to get on the last flight out of Kabul. Kam Air A340 was the last flight out of #Afghanistan – it landed in Iran according to Flightradar. Kam Air Staff evacuated to Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/Qsg0jjiiKJ
— Josh Cahill (@gotravelyourway) August 16, 2021
Airport in chaos
The situation at Kabul Airport is chaotic, with seemingly no security present to control the floods of Afghan people attempting to get on a plane out of the country.
— سنګر پیکار (@paykhar) August 15, 2021
In the early morning sun, hundreds of people could be seen crowding the airside area of the airport. Some brought luggage with them, but many arrived with just the shirts on their backs and nothing more. People can be seen running towards parked planes, desperate to find any way out of the city.
Scenes at Kabul International Airport this morning. Probable reason why @TurkishAirlines B777-300ER from Kabul to Istanbul couldn’t depart out of the airport. Video source unknown.#aerowanderer #aviation #Kabul #kabulairport #Afghanishtan #turkishairlines pic.twitter.com/I9QRdhmGdd
— Aerowanderer (@aerowanderer) August 16, 2021
Later in the morning, crowds could be seen scattered across the runway as a C-17 attempted to taxi for takeoff. An Apache helicopter appears to be trying to clear the runway, and there are reports that at least five people have lost their lives in the chaos.
It is chaos at Kabul airport. Planes are taking off and landing and people are running across the runway. pic.twitter.com/kKrg667AQB
— Sowaibah Hanifie (@SowaibahH) August 16, 2021
But the death toll is likely to be higher before this is all over. Disturbing videos have been circulating online showing several young Afghani’s clinging to the side of a C-17 Globemaster as it began its takeoff roll. Further footage appears to depict at least two people falling from the plane as it climbed out of the airport.
— Deepak Kumawat (@deepakdk_06) August 16, 2021
Several airlines have already issued notices that their flights will not transit Afghan airspace for the foreseeable future. British Airways ordered all its pilots to avoid the airspace, while Finnair posted confirmation on Twitter that it is not planning to overfly the country.
Vistara, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines have also declared their intentions not to operate in Afghan airspace. This will require indirect routes between east and west, adding cost and time to hundreds of services.
The few airlines that did operate to Kabul have canceled their flights, including flydubai.
Emirates’ eight hour flight to nowhere
Emirates flight EK640 was set to arrive in Kabul at 14:30 yesterday, with a Boeing 777 performing the service. It was on approach to the airport when the decision was made to turn around.
The aircraft held in the sky above Kabul for around 30 minutes, but eventually headed back to Dubai. In total, the aircraft flew for more than eight hours before arriving back at DXB.
Simple Flying will update this page throughout the day as more information becomes available.