Kabul Closed To Commercial Flights, Airlines Avoid Afghan Airspace

Afghans climb atop a plane at Kabul Airport on Aug. 16 as they seek evacuation flights.
Credit: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Essential air traffic to and from Afghanistan came to a standstill on Aug.15 as the Taliban declared victory over the capital Kabul after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled abroad as his government collapsed.

The situation at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International (KBL) has seen thousands of Afghan and foreign national passengers stranded in the country. News footage and videos on social media have painted a picture of panic at the airport as people try to flee. 

The civilian section of KBL has been overrun by panicked Afghans. Thousands crowded onto the tarmac in the hope of catching any flight out of the country. The situation has led to all commercial flights from the airport being canceled.

According to OAG Schedules Analyser, the airline operating in Afghanistan this week (w/c Aug. 16, 2021) with the most scheduled departure seats would have been local carrier Kam Air, the nation’s largest airline, with 22,488 seats and a marketshare of 56.11%. Bakhtar Afghan Airlines follows with a market share of 11.08% with Ariana Afghan Airlines third with 10.38%.

The leading foreign carriers in Kabul are Emirates Airline and Turkish Airlines, operating the two main international routes to Dubai (with 4,214 seats scheduled this week) and Istanbul (4,082 seats) respectively. LCCs Air Arabia and flydubai as well as Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) also offer limited services to the country. 

The Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) has said any transit through Kabul airspace—which covers all of Afghanistan—would be uncontrolled, meaning planes would no longer be guided from the ground, according to news agency Reuters. Surrounding air traffic control regions have been advised of the situation and transiting aircraft have been advised to reroute.

Citing the “developing situation in Afghanistan,” Emirates said Aug. 15 it had suspended flights to Kabul until further notice.

A flydubai spokesperson told Aviation Daily, that “flydubai temporarily suspends its operations to Kabul. We will continue to monitor the situation and revise our plans in line with the directives from the authorities.”

According to FlightRadar24, Turkish Airlines flight 707 managed to leave KBL after a near-five-hour delay on Aug. 16.

Major international airlines are avoiding Afghan airspace as a precaution, which is leading to delays on certain flights, for example from Europe to India, Pakistan and Thailand. 

Lufthansa Group said as its airlines were now rerouting their flights, passengers on certain services should expect as much as an hour of additional flying time. 

KLM said the routes its aircraft take from Amsterdam to Bangkok, New Delhi and Singapore have had to be adjusted.

U.S. troops have now taken control of the airport and there are hopes that evacuation flights can resume. A growing number of countries are now working on urgent repatriation flights for their citizens in Afghanistan. Lufthansa has said it is examining its own participation and was looking to support evacuations from Afghanistan in coordination with the German foreign ministry.

Kurt Hofmann

Kurt Hofmann has been writing on the airline industry for 25 years. He appears frequently on Austrian, Swiss and German television and broadcasting…