Afghanistan’s aviation authority said on Monday the country’s airspace had been “released to the military” and advised airlines to avoid its air corridors, prompting major airlines to divert flights in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.
The authority did not specify which military, given the collapse of local security forces in the face of the Taliban offensive.
But U.S. forces have taken over air traffic control at Kabul airport, where five died on Monday in chaotic scenes with reports of firing in the air and a stampede, according to reports by Reuters.
United Airlines British Airways and Virgin Atlantic had already stopped using Afghanistan airspace on Sunday as U.S.-led forces departed and Western nations scrambled to evacuate citizens.
On Monday, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI), Taiwan’s China Airlines (2610.TW), Air France KLM (AIRF.PA) and Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) followed suit.
Air France said six routes were affected: Bangkok, Delhi, Singapore, Mumbai, Madras and Ho Chi Minh.
Lufthansa said flight times to India and some other destinations would be extended by up to one hour, in a move that will add to fuel costs.
In a notice to pilots on its website, the Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) said any transit through Kabul airspace – which covers all Afghanistan – would be uncontrolled, meaning planes would no longer be guided from the ground.
Analysts said flights between Europe and parts of Asia would be affected most, adding to a list of growing headaches after Middle East conflicts and a forced diversion of a jet over Belarus, which put its skies off limits for many airlines.
A Western aviation official said the withdrawal of air traffic control services would have implications for any airlines seeking insurance to fly over Afghan territory.
Emirates airline suspends flights to Kabul
Dubai – As a result of Taliban militants storming Kabul on Sunday, Emirates has suspended all flights to Afghanistan’s capital until further notice, the airline announced on its website.
“Customers holding tickets with final destination to Kabul will not be accepted for travel at their point of origin,” it said.
Other Dubai-based carriers flydubai earlier has also suspended flights to Kabul.
Learning From History
Airlines and governments have paid more attention to the risks of flying over airspace in volatile zones in recent years after two deadly incidents involving surface-to-air missiles.
A Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board, and a Ukraine International Airlines jet was downed by Iran’s military in 2020, killing all 176 passengers and crew.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in July imposed new flight restrictions over Afghanistan for U.S. airlines and operators.
It said flights operating below 26,000 feet were prohibited in the Kabul Flight Information Region, which largely covers Afghanistan, unless operating in and out of Hamid Karzai International Airport, citing the risk “posed by extremist/militant activity.”
That did not apply to U.S. military operations.
Other countries, including Canada, Britain, Germany and France, had also advised airlines to maintain an altitude of at least 25,000 feet over Afghanistan, according to website Safe Airspace.
Commercial flights have also been affected: Emirates suspended flights to Kabul and Turkish Airlines cancelled scheduled flights to and from Afghanistan. read more
The ACAA said the civilian side of Kabul airport was closed until further notice.