PIA Operates First Commercial Kabul Flight Since US Forces Left

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has become the first airline to return to Kabul, Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country. The airline arrived this morning with a Boeing 777 on a chartered service. Around 100 people made the journey back to Islamabad on board.

PIA Kabul return
PIA has flown a 777 into Kabul today. Photo: Getty Images

PIA arrives back in Kabul

PIA has taken the bold step of becoming the first airline to return with a commercial service to the airport at Kabul since flights shut down last month. The airline operated a Boeing 777 to the airport today. This was not an evacuation flight but a truly commercial service, although it was chartered so not bookable by the public.

Flight number PK 6250 took off from Islamabad at around 9:20 this morning, local time. The trip to Kabul is only about an hour, but with no ADSB coverage over the country right now, it’s not clear exactly what time the aircraft touched down. However, we do know that the return flight took off successfully a couple of hours later, arriving back in ISB at 13:17. The aircraft was AP-BGK, a 17-year-old Boeing 777-200ER.

PIA Operates First Commercial Kabul Flight Since US Forces Left
The lack of ADSB coverage means only about 50% of the flight path was trackable. Data: RadarBox.com

The company that chartered the aircraft was World Bank, which used the service to move officials from the business as well as journalists out of the country. However, it did also bring some people to Afghanistan from Pakistan too. The flight departed from Islamabad earlier today, with reportedly just a handful of people onboard. An AFP journalist told Yahoo News that,

“There was hardly anyone on the plane, around 10 people… maybe more staff than passengers.”

PIA Kabul return
The aircraft brought around 10 people into the country. Photo: Getty Images

The service comes after some confusion over the weekend about when PIA would begin flying to Afghanistan again. Initial reports suggested it would begin flying today, but later clarifications by airline spokespeople said that no decision had yet been made. But with eyewitnesses reporting the arrival of the plane, and the video below supporting this too, it seems the airline is back.

PIA was the last airline to abandon commercial flights into Kabul after the Taliban took control. It suspended its flights on August 23rd, noting that the facilities were becoming too dangerous and uncertain to continue. Reports of piles of rubbish on the runways and a lack of security checks forced the airline to pull out.

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Welcome to Afghanistan

Yahoo News further reports that a bus painted with the words ‘welcome to Afghanistan’ met the arrivals at the airport. Although it was prepared to ferry the passengers from the plane to the terminal, in the end, the small group of arrivals simply walked.

Kabul shuttle bus
The arrivals chose to walk, but the shuttle bus came in useful bringing the 100 or so departing passengers to the plane. Photo: Getty Images

For the return flight, around 100 people boarded the 777. They were mostly employees of the World Bank and their relatives. A PIA spokesperson said it was too early to say for sure when regular flights between the countries would begin.

The airport, including jet bridges and buildings, were badly damaged amid the Taliban takeover, as thousands stormed the facilities to try and get out of the country. Since then, Qatar and other nations have been working with the Taliban government to restore service. Qatar Airways has operated at least two evacuation flights in the last few days.

The resumption of commercial service at the airport will be a test for the new Afghan government. The Taliban has promised that those with the correct documentation will be allowed free passage to depart the country if they want to. NATO governments have admitted that they ran out of time to evacuate everyone they needed to, so hopefully, we’ll see the return of some scheduled services in the coming days.