The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has loosened its rules on foreign airlines to operate evacuation flights. With the goal of speeding up the evacuation of refugees and key personnel from Afghanistan, the DOT has given blanket permissions for foreign airlines to get involved in the evacuation flights until September 30th.
DOT loosens permissions for foreign airlines
On Friday, August 20th, the US Department of Transportation issued an order extending permissions for foreign airlines to run evacuation flights for passenger traffic from Afghanistan. The DOT is granting this permission to give greater flexibility for foreign airlines that do not hold economic authority to conduct flights to the US to operate flights in support of the mission.
The DOT will only allow foreign civil aircraft operators with this expanded authority to operate US Government (USG)-sponsored flights transporting evacuees. The evacuees are a combination of American citizens, personnel in the Afghan Special Interest Visa (SIV) program, and other passengers who have undergone biometric screening.
Some foreign airlines are already conducting these operations for the US government:
5 flights carrying more than 850 Americans & Embassy Kabul personnel have already left #Kuwait en route to 🇺🇸. Huge thanks to our Kuwaiti partners, our dedicated diplomats & @DeptofDefense colleagues working around the clock to ensure U.S. citizens & our partners get home safely. pic.twitter.com/3SAUf9K0Zf
— Ambassador Alina Romanowski (@USAmbKuwait) August 21, 2021
Under this program, the US has contracted Gulf Air, based in Bahrain, to run evacuation flights from Bahrain to the US. The airline will run a series of flights under this agreement over the next 30 days.
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US government getting as much help as it can
There are more evacuees than there are seats available. Without viable commercial options, military-sponsored evacuations have been the only way out for most people. With US citizens, personnel, and refugees still waiting to get out of Afghanistan, the government needs all the help it can get.
Over the weekend, the US government also activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). Under this program, the US government marshaled 18 widebody aircraft from commercial airlines to support the evacuation. The commercial aircraft are helping to fly evacuees currently in temporary locations at US bases in the Middle East and Europe to the United States. Even with these aircraft involved in the missions, there is still a need for more commercial aircraft to help fly the evacuees.
Other countries have also turned to commercial airlines to help evacuate people from the country. This includes Lufthansa in Germany and Air India. Lufthansa’s missions have transported over 1,500 passengers in one week from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to Frankfurt, Germany.
A temporary situation
The loosened permissions are in effect until September 30th, 2021. To participate in the program, airlines helping with the evacuation must be in good standing from a safety perspective and comply with all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
Most airlines around the world have some spare widebodies that are not currently flying heavy commercial schedules. This is a positive for the US government, as it means greater availability of aircraft to contract for evacuation flights.
The goal is to speed up the evacuation of passenger traffic from Afghanistan by getting as many airlines involved as possible to get US citizens and allies supporting the country’s US mission.