Flights on the India-US and Europe routes could take up to 30 minutes more than usual as airlines have been asked to avoid Afghanistan’s airspace after the Taliban took control of the country’s capital Kabul.
Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority on Monday issued a notice to air carriers stating that the airspace had been released to the military and advised transit flights to reroute, saying there would be no air traffic control (ATC).
Sources said the airspace was shut as there were no staff to man the ATC after the Taliban took power. As a result of this sudden decision, state-owned Air India cancelled its Delhi-Kabul-Delhi flight that was scheduled to operate on Monday to avoid Afghanistan’s airspace after it was declared “uncontrolled” by authorities at the Kabul airport, senior officials said.
That was the only commercial flight scheduled to operate between India and Afghanistan on the day. In fact, Air India is the only carrier that has been flying between the two countries. Moreover, the carrier diverted its two flights coming to Delhi from the US toward Sharjah in the UAE.
The suspension of commercial flights between India and Afghanistan has also hit repatriation efforts with India on Sunday expecting to evacuate embassy officials and citizens by Air India flights.
Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said they were waiting for air services to resume for repatriation efforts to begin. Simultaneously, government sources said the Indian Air Force has operated two C-17 Globemaster, one on Sunday night and the other on Monday to bring back Indian officials.
Vistara, which operates flights to London and Frankfurt, said it will take an alternative route, avoiding the Afghan airspace. The alternative which is via Pakistan and Iran will increase flight time to London by around 15 minutes.
Among foreign airlines, United Airlines, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic had already stopped using Afghanistan’s airspace on Sunday as the US-led forces departed and Western nations scrambled to evacuate citizens.
“Due to the dynamic nature of the situation, we have begun routing affected flights around Afghanistan airspace,” a United Airlines spokeswoman said in a statement. The changes impact several of United Airline’s US-India flights.
According to flight tracking website Flightradar24, United Airlines is operating through Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan for its India-bound flights, which will increase the flight time by around 30 minutes. The US Federal Aviation Administration in July imposed new flight restrictions over Afghanistan for US airlines and other 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”.
The last time airlines on this route had to deal with such disruption was when Pakistan shut its airspace after the Indian Air Force said it had dropped bombs on a terrorist site in Balakot.