British Airways Avoiding Afghan Airspace

With Taliban forces now in the Afghan capital of Kabul, the country’s president has been forced to flee, making way for a new government. With a heightened state of chaos in recent weeks, the country has lost almost all control to the terrorist-friendly Taliban. This has forced British Airways to reconsider its flight paths through Afghan airspace.

British Airways Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner G-ZBKO
British Airways has been using the Boeing 787-9 to fly from London Heathrow to Indira Gandhi International in Delhi. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

A recent Simple Flying article covered the Afghan crisis and its impact on aviation as it relates to flights to and from the country. An early sign included Emirates flight EK640, which flew towards Afghanistan’s capital city but decided to return to Dubai after holding around Kabul amid the ongoing confusion.

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Before the fall of Kabul

The crisis in Afghanistan will also have an impact on aircraft flying over the country and through its airspace. Indeed, British Airways is one of the first airlines we’ve seen circumventing the country, with Reuters reporting that the British carrier would not be using Afghan airspace.

To visualize what this looks like, we can turn to British Airways’ flight BA257 from London Heathrow to Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International. On August 14th, we saw the airline’s Boeing 787-9 overfly Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. It then entered Afghan airspace and proceeded onwards through Pakistan to India before landing in Delhi.

BA257
British Airways’ flight BA257 on August 14th. Photo: RadarBox.com

A state of crisis

Reports indicate that the Taliban entered Kabul sometime in the last 48 hours, with the city falling to the group in the last 24 hours. Indeed, recent CNN reporting indicates that President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country, and Taliban fighters have taken control of the Presidential Palace.

Given the turmoil, we can see that British Airways has decided to change its routing towards India. Our example flight, BA257, now flies over Greece, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, on its way to the Indian subcontinent. This has pushed the flight time up, from between 7.5-7.8 hours, up to nearly 10 hours.

When asked for comment, British Airways could only tell us that it is “not currently using Afghanistan’s airspace” and that its teams are continuing to monitor the situation.

BA257
BA257 on August 15th, with a route avoiding Afghanistan (as well as Iran). Photo: RadarBox.com

With this level of political instability, overflying the country’s airspace carries a great deal of risk. In the late 1990s, when the Taliban was in control of most of the country, it imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law while taking an extremely anti-Western stance, both politically and culturally. Women and girls were banned from education and work, which is why we only recently saw Kam Air operate its first all-female flight.

Also of concern is the Taliban’s history of providing sanctuary for the terrorist group al Qaeda. This, combined with an anti-Western sentiment, might be more than the acceptable level of risk an airline is willing to take to overfly the country.

We’ll have to wait and see if other airlines decide to follow suit.

Do you think other airlines will do the same? Should they? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

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