FAA Prohibits US Carriers From Flying Below FL260 In Afghanistan

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a NOTAM prohibiting most US carriers from flying below flight level 260 in the Kabul flight information region. The administration cited extremist and militant activity as the reason for its decision. The US is currently in the process of withdrawing troops from the area.

FAA, Afghanistan, Flight Ban
The FAA has banned most US operations below FL260 in Afghani airspace. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Thankfully, flying through much of the world comes without any risks from regional conflicts. While Civil Aviation shouldn’t be targeted in these conflicts, sometimes the worst happens. To try and prevent danger to air traffic, it is not uncommon to see flight restrictions placed over some regions.

Flights banned below FL260

In a NOTAM issued on July 25th, The FAA banned most flights in the Kabul flight information region. According to Safe Airspace, all US carriers and several other categories of pilots and aircraft are prohibited from flying below flight level 260.

There are a couple of exemptions from the flight ban. Firstly, if carriers fly to or from the Hamid Karzai International Airport, they can deviate from the rule. After all, it’s hard to land if you can’t go below 26,000 feet. It is also possible to deviate from the ruling with specific permission from the FAA or a similarly authorized agency.

FAA, Afghanistan, Flight Ban
The NOTAM applies to the Kabul flight information region. Photo: Radarbox.com

Of course, if an emergency occurs requiring an aircraft to descend, such as a cabin depressurization, the aircraft in question is allowed to deviate from the regulations to the extent necessary.

Following previous notices

The NOTAM follows a previous note issued by the FAA in mid-April revealing,

“Taliban forces intend to retaliate to the announcement that the withdrawal of US forces will be gradual, not immediate – as they believe this violates existing agreements. This has increased the risk to civil aviation. The Taliban have previously attacked aviation interests by a variety of means…”

The NOTAM also follows another notice given in late March from the FAA advising those operating in the Kabul flight information area against flying below FL330 and to stick to published flight paths.

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The US isn’t the only country to issue a warning about flying over Afghanistan. According to Safe Airspace, France issued a notice that french carriers and aircraft should also only fly above FL260. Meanwhile, Germany advises operators in the region to fly above FL330 and take the potential risk into account if flying below that level. Finally, the UK warns of a threat to aircraft flying below FL250.

FAA, Afghanistan, Flight Ban
France, Germany, and the UK have also previously issued warnings about flights in the area. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Could it cause issues for other operators?

While you may think that the FAA’s ruling would only apply to its own carriers such as American, Delta, and United. In the past, others have been fined for not following the rules. The NOTAM applies to all US air carriers and commercial operators.

In October 2020, Simple Flying reported that Emirates had been fined $400,000 by the DOT for flying over Iran. While there was no issue with the Emirates flight itself, the problem arose because of codeshare agreements. JetBlue’s designator code was used on flights through the Tehran flight information area after a NOTAM was issued by the FAA prohibiting such operations.

At the time, an Emirates spokesperson told Simple Flying,

“The NOTAM does not directly apply to Emirates and other foreign air carriers, and applies only on flights where Emirates transported passengers ticketed under a US air carrier’s designator code.”

What do you make of the FAA’s Afghanistan flight ban? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below.