Times are grim for Kam Air, the main private airline in Afghanistan. Fearing for their safety, foreign workers are fleeing the country, forcing the carrier to cancel the majority of its flights.
Last week a deadly terrorist attack rocked Kabul. Masked gunmen stormed the Intercontinental Kabul (not part of IHG), killing 22 people. Nine of the 22 killed were international workers for Kam Air. Per the New York Times, An exodus resulted:
When the Taliban stormed Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel last weekend, nine of the 22 people killed were members of Kam Air’s international staff, including pilots and crew members from Ukraine and Venezuela. Then more than 50 of the airline’s foreign workers fled the country, forsaking their high pay because it had simply become too risky to work here.
Now five of its nine aircraft sit idle and the carrier. Kam Air wonders if it will ever be able to recruit pilots back.
We had 37 domestic and international flights each day; now we are canceling 20 of them every day,” said Capt. Samad Osman Samadi, general director of Kam Air. “Those of our foreign colleagues who were shocked by the attack are not able to work. They returned to their countries. We don’t know whether they will return to work or not.
Kam Air, which has been in business since 2003, knows that it must pay foreign workers well. Foreign workers are paid between 4-5x more than what they would make in their own countries…that’s impressive hazard pay.
What has helped Kam Air stay alive is its foreign technical staff and its competitive salaries: While a Ukrainian aviation worker might make $1,000 a month at home, Kam Air pays between $4,000 and $5,000.
But not really worth it if you lose your life, is it?
In the meantime, many Afghans face an unsavory position. Traveling between the north and south of Afghanistan is relatively safe via plane, but forget about going overland, which cuts through Taliban-contorlled territory.
The Hotel Attack
The NY Times article is fascinating in its details on the personal stories of many of the Kam Air crew members. I highly recommend you read the entire article. Here’s one more excerpt:
One of the first victims was a Ukrainian pilot who specialized in flying a small, 32-passenger Saab 340, landing on bumpy tarmacs that would make many pilots cringe. He was shot while dining at the hotel restaurant. Another victim, a flight attendant, hid on her balcony for much of the night, but the freezing cold forced her back into her room, where she was killed.
I’m at a loss for words.
When I visited Afghanistan in 2012, I chose to fly Ariana Afghan Airlines over Kam Air, mainly due to price. That flight was piloted by an American pilot. I remember seeing Kam Air planes on the ground in Kabul, like the pictures I took below.
It’s a sad situation…Kam Air will likely be able to recruit more workers at the right price, but its business model will be severely tested in the weeks ahead.
Read my Afghanistan Trip Report:
Dubai to Kabul on Ariana Afghan Airlines
Arrival in Afghanistan
The Panjshir Valley of Afghanistan
My Hotel, er Compound, in Kabul, Afghanistan
TV Tower Hill and Darul Aman Palace – Kabul
National Museum of Afghanistan – Kabul
Gardens of Babur and Kart-e Sakhi Mosque – Kabul
The Green Zone and British Cemetery – Kabul
Kabul International Airport and Departing Afghanistan
The Afghanistan Dilemma
Kabul to Dubai on flydubai
They can just give the pilots and flight attendants guns and have them driven by security drivers with guns back and forth to the hotel and to guard them while in the lobby or restaurant.
Extremely sad to see a country crumbling to terrorists killing innocent people for nothing.