Aviation History: Aviation in Afghanistan

Picture Source: Getty Images

By Emma Rasmussen, Correspondent

August saw the rapid deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan as the Taliban laid siege to the nation after two decades of American occupation. With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 upon us, many wonder if the world is really safer than it was when the attacks occurred. Nevertheless, the recent events in Afghanistan have illustrated the importance of aviation, and how it can be used for good and bad.

Who is flying in Afghanistan?

On Aug. 18, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a “Notice to Airmen” (NOTAM) for Afghan airspace, deterring airlines from overflying the nation amid the ongoing crisis. Only a very small corridor of Afghanistan was allowed to be flown over by American carriers, merely because aircraft would spend no more than a few minutes in Afghan airspace when moving between neighboring countries. According to FlightRadar24 at the height of the evacuations, “NOTAMs instructed pilots that engines must remain on at the airport and landings must be pre-cleared within a sixty minute window.”

Until the complete withdrawal of the United States military on Aug. 30, most flights taking place in Afghanistan were military operations and private charter flights. Pakistan International Airlines, Air India, Turkish Airlines, and a handful of domestic Afghan carriers briefly continued passenger operations. With most of the evacuation efforts complete, American carriers have been barred from flying to Afghanistan by the FAA.

The Future of Afghanistan’s Airlines and Kabul Airport

An unquantified number of aircraft from Afghanistan’s Kam Air have been flown to Iran for safe keeping. It is unknown how long these airliners will be stored away from the conflict in Afghanistan. Iran has not shared where the stored aircraft are located or any further details on their whereabouts. Whether the airline will resume operations remains to be seen, though the Taliban is currently working to reopen Kabul Airport with a team of aviation experts from Qatar.

For the foreseeable future, Kabul Airport is considered “uncontrolled” due to the absence of air traffic controllers to man the tower. The Qatari technical experts are hoping to reopen the airport to encourage humanitarian aid and potentially resume some evacuation efforts. However, the airport’s condition is poor due to the hasty evacuation efforts, which will require expensive repairs. The degradation of the airport was caused by violent crowds, a terrorist attack during the evacuation, and the American military destroying equipment to prevent the Taliban from using it. The $350M in damages may delay further extraction and humanitarian efforts.

An American Treasure Trove of Weapons

With the collapse of the Afghan Air Force, multiple American-made aircraft and weapons have been captured by the Taliban. Several images of Taliban fighters posing with Black Hawks and Soviet helicopters have been circulating on social media, raising questions about why the aircraft haven’t been removed or completely destroyed. The Afghan Air Force operated a range of aircraft, including the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, Lockheed C-130 Hercules, militarized Cessna Caravans, Black Hawk helicopters, among others.

The Taliban Holds Up Further Evacuation Efforts

Talks between the Taliban and the State Department have tied up additional evacuation efforts, grounding six airplanes being used to evacuate 1,000 more people. Glenn Beck, a Christian and conservative political commentator, chartered the aircraft being used to remove over a hundred stranded Americans and others. Sayara and Goldbelt, Inc. have also chartered such flights. The flights were unable to depart until they received clearance, but eventually one of the stranded flights was able to depart with 200 passengers.

An Unknown Future

With the Taliban in complete control and the absence of a military presence in Afghanistan, further evacuation flights continue to be obstructed by the Taliban. Private entities continue to fund evacuation flights for Americans left behind, but the Taliban’s hostility makes these flights increasingly dangerous to execute. Despite the chaos, hope carries on for these rogue flights and continued humanitarian efforts.