***Update on 08/15/2021 at 21:36 UTC – Inserted more details about the situation in Kabul***
The ongoing situation in Afghanistan has unfolded so rapidly that airlines are coming into the market unprepared. After flying safely into Kabul for some time now, airlines are now facing a new future of uncertainty in Afghanistan. While not a massive air market, there is enough traffic to justify a fair bit of international flying. Kabul’s airport is currently shut to commercial flights as evacuations take priority, raising questions about the future of Afghan aviation.
Flight disruptions in Afghanistan
One of the first signs of disruption came from EK640. The Boeing 777-300ER-operated flight took off from Emirates’ hub at Dubai International Airport (DXB) en route to Kabul International Airport (KBL) in Kabul, Afghanistan. However, the aircraft ended up a five-and-half hour to nowhere, returning to Dubai after holding around Kabul amid the ongoing confusion.
Air India flight 243, operated by an Airbus A320neo, took off from Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) In New Delhi, India, and made its way to Kabul. However, the aircraft also held for a while outside Kabul before continuing for a landing at the airport.
These are just a few examples of civilian flight disruptions. The ongoing situation has unfolded so rapidly, and the current focus is on military evacuations. Many flights have been canceled. Some examples include flydubai and Emirates, which both fly from Kabul to Dubai. Further cancellations are expected as the situation unfolds.
Kabul’s airport is shut down
Reports are coming in from Afghanistan that the airport in Kabul is now shut down for commercial travel. As the ongoing struggle for the country continues with the Taliban on the verge of taking over Kabul, the airport is now entirely focused on getting key personnel out.
Military evacuations are continuing, and the US Embassy in Kabul is working out of the airport and working to manage the situation as best as possible, with a focus on evacuation. If you are scheduled to fly to or from Afghanistan in the coming days, it is best to watch airline schedules closely. Several airlines have pulled Kabul from their schedules in the coming days and weeks. This is expected to continue in the coming days and weeks until the dust settles on the situation.
The situation has put many on edge. Over the last few hours, video and images have surfaced showing a scene of chaos at the airport, which extended to some flights preparing to depart. The operational status of the airport is unclear, but certainly, there are many passengers stuck in Kabul after recent flight cancellations. Below is an example of some of the footage and images running on social media:
Civilian flights cannot leave the Kabul airport because people overwhelm the planes.
This Kam Air flight apparently couldn’t take off because hundreds of people have been trying to board pic.twitter.com/Q1HgT0gU5Y
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) August 15, 2021
Scene at Kabul airport, as civilians hope to be evacuated. pic.twitter.com/iVkdX1R34c
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) August 15, 2021
— Bruno Maçães (@MacaesBruno) August 15, 2021
Another Saigon moment: chaotic scenes at Kabul International Airport. No security. None. pic.twitter.com/6BuXqBTHWk
— Saad Mohseni (@saadmohseni) August 15, 2021
It is presently unclear what the security situation is at the airport in Kabul. There are reports that US personnel have arrived to provide some support to keep the airport secure and in operation. The situation is unfolding rapidly, and it is unclear exactly how many personnel have arrived and what their roles are. The key focus appears to be on preserving the military operations to get key personnel out.
Unconfirmed footage of 82nd Airborne arriving at Kabul International Airport. pic.twitter.com/bD9P6W70TA
— Global: MilitaryInfo (@Global_Mil_Info) August 15, 2021
Military evacuations continue to run in earnest. It is unclear how many remain stuck in Kabul, though there are a sizable number of Afghans looking to flee the country and most likely a sizable number of foreign military personnel also awaiting transport. US armed forces divisions have sent planes out to Afghanistan to support the evacuation.
There were reports that the airport was taking fire from some militants. It is unclear what the status of those reports is. ABC News reports that another 1,000 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne division of the US Army are being sent to Afghanistan to assist in the evacuation. Much of the remaining activity is focused around the airport, as the Taliban has taken over many other parts of Kabul.
Other countries have continued with their rescue operations. This includes the Czech Republic, with reports that the country was able to get 46 Czech citizens and local colleagues on a plane to Prague. The civilian operation, however, remains stalled and unclear at this point.
What this means for the future of Afghan aviation
Afghanistan has two major airlines. There is first the flag carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines. The second major airline is Kam Air, which is a private airline. Both airlines operate significantly out of Kabul.
A report in the Associated Press just from Saturday discussed the civilian evacuation out of Afghanistan. Many expressed concern over the Taliban’s ongoing takeover of the country and worry over the fallout. The report also indicated that Kam Air and Ariana Afghan Airlines have almost no capacity to get people out of the country. Many concerns have been over the fallout of subcontractors who worked with outside organizations like NATO or the US.
Once the dust settles on the ongoing conflict, the question will be what business and family ties may keep Afghanistan connected to the broader world. Without enough demand, it is difficult to imagine many airlines returning to the country, assuming airlines believe it is safe enough to resume operations. In addition, it is unclear who will be in charge of the airports – whether it be the new government or a private entity. Airlines will need to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to handle their flights.
There is a sizable Afghan diaspora around the world. However, the question remains whether they will be allowed to return to Afghanistan to see their family or friends. As of now, so much remains unclear. It is also similarly unclear if there will be domestic travel restrictions in effect.
Air travel has an important role in the world. Between adding vital cargo capacity and connecting passenger traffic, the economic importance of air travel cannot be understated. Some of the issues that plague Afghan carriers still exist. This includes aging fleets and concerns about safety. Both Ariana Afghan Airlines and Kam Air are on the EU blacklist.
Both of the airlines mainly operated domestic flights and international routes to key Middle Eastern and South Asian hubs. From there, customers can connect onwards to the rest of the world. Several foreign carriers, including Turkish Airlines in addition to Air India and Emirates, have served Kabul to meet connecting demand.
What do you make of the situation in Kabul? Let us know in the comments!