With the U.S. pullout now complete and Kabul International Airport under Taliban control, U.S. airlines will no longer be able fly over virtually all of the country without prior authorization.
U.S. Airlines Cannot Fly Over Afghanistan
During the pullout, U.S. forces controlled the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and also managed air traffic control over Afghanistan. With the final U.S and coalition troops having left Afghanistan last night, air traffic control has gone dark.
While it is expected that the Taliban will seek to resume it, potentially even with the same air traffic controllers, the Federal Aviation Administration has banned U.S. carriers from operating over Afghanistan:
“Due to both the lack of air traffic services and a functional civil aviation authority in Afghanistan, as well as ongoing security concerns, U.S. civil operators, pilots, and U.S.-registered civil aircraft are prohibited from operating at any altitude over much of Afghanistan.”
There is a small exception. U.S. carriers can use “one high-altitude jet route near the far eastern border for overflights. That’s known as the Wakhan Corridor in eastern Afghanistan, a small strip with Pakistan to the south and Tajikistan to the north. When crossing, an airline passes over the Pakistan border, then spends about two minutes in Afghan airspace before entering Tajik airspace.
The route is frequently used by U.S. and European airlines flying to India. For example, on August 25th United flight 868 from San Francisco to Delhi passed over the Wakhan Corridor.
Even so, any U.S. civil aircraft operator that wants to fly into/out of or over Afghanistan must receive prior authorization from the FAA.
Commercial flights are expected to resume, though it remains to be seen how many carriers will be willing to continue service to Kabul or Kandahar.
As the final U.S. solider left Kabul International Airport, the Taliban celebrated. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, said:
“At 12 o’clock tonight, the last American troops left Kabul airport, on which account Afghanistan was completely liberated and independent.”
Now comes the hard part…keeping the peace. That includes creating and maintaining a functional air traffic control system. For now, though, the airspace over Afghanistan will be off-limits to U.S. airlines and likely many other nations as well.
images: a view of Afghanistan outside the window of my flight from Dubai to Kabul (2012)