Kabul Airspace won’t be able to offer Air Traffic Navigation to civilian aircraft; Vistara, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air India amongst carriers which stop using airspace

With the situation in Afghanistan deteriorating rapidly and thousands of civilians trying to flee on evacuation missions many countries are running from Kabul airport for their citizens and diplomats; one of the most chaotic instances of how destabilised things have become has been the airspace for the country.

Things have begun to unravel last evening as the Taliban entered Kabul and people wanted to flee the nation. Last night, people were spotted by the droves on the runway and in aircraft, trying to catch any plane out of the country, as per videos from Kabul, which have swarmed the Internet. Air India’s AI244 was one of the last commercial flights that managed to get out of the country before the civilian side of the airport was reportedly closed. An Emirates scheduled service operating to Kabul turned around and went back.

Afganistan’s airspace is precious, as it is the shortest link between Europe and Asia. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal estimated that the route saved 30 minutes per flight and shaved off USD 130 million in fuel costs. For Afghanistan itself, they mint the $$ by allowing flights to use their airspace. The same WSJ article linked estimated this to be worth USD 12 Million at the minimum.

As of August 15, 2021, British Airways had already stopped using the Kabul region to overfly, instead operating their Delhi – London Heathrow flight on a longer route, skirting both Kabul and Iranian airspace.

a map of the world with a plane flying

Image Courtesy FlightRadar24.com

I assume United’s risk assessment was different, and it operated via the Kabul FIR on its way out from Delhi and Mumbai last evening.

Afghanistan has stopped offering ATC navigation services in the Kabul Flight Information Region (FIR) hereon, as per a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) issued on August 16, 2021. This does not mean that Kabul airspace is not available for use. However, it means that the ATC in Kabul won’t provide separation and other vital data and check-in on the flights while they fly through Kabul Airspace. The airspace has been transferred to the Military now.

Kabul Airport NOTAM

As the new NOTAM arrived, Air India had an aircraft from Chicago to Delhi (AI126), just about entering the airspace over Afghanistan. It immediately rerouted, eventually heading into Sharjah for a tech stop refuel before heading into Delhi.

a map of the world with a plane flying

Image Courtesy FlightRadar24.com

Similarly, an Air India flight from San Francisco to Delhi has also been diverted and arrived at Sharjah for a tech stop.

Kabul Airport

Image Courtesy FlightRadar24.com

Consequent to the move, other airlines have also decided not to use the Kabul FIR for overflight. United’s ORD-DEL flight is operating via the airspace north of Afghanistan now.

Kabul Airport

Image Courtesy FlightRadar24.com

Vistara has confirmed that its flights between London and Delhi won’t overfly Afghan Airspace. A Lufthansa spokesperson also similarly maintained,

Due to current developments, the airspace over Afghanistan is currently closed. The airlines of Lufthansa Group are accordingly using alternative flight routes. Safety is Lufthansa Group’s top priority at all times.

In the meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic’s DEL-LHR VS301 flew via the Arabic Gulf, taking a much longer route to fly back.

Kabul Airport


If you are flying out or flying into India from Europe or the US, brace for longer flight times in the coming days as airlines go back to their risk assessment and wait for the storm to settle, in the meantime flying the longer routes to ensure they don’t put their equipment, crew and passengers in harms way in any manner. If this becomes a long-term thing, however, expect higher prices on your flights as well in the future.

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About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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