The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced that high-altitude flights above FL 320 (32,000 feet) over Afghanistan would be allowed since that is the safest level. This decision represents a significant departure from the region’s previous restrictions placed on airspace due to security concerns.
Flying over Afghanistan: decision to allow high-altitude (FL 320) flights
The decision to allow high-altitude flights over Afghanistan was reached following a comprehensive analysis of the security situation in the region and close coordination with relevant international agencies. The FAA acknowledges that overflights at FL 320 or above are now feasible due to the procedures implemented by the Taliban, ensuring the safety of United States (US) civil aviation operations within the Kabul FIR (OAKX). However, reports suggest that despite the new regulations being implemented, it is anticipated that operations in the airspace will not commence for at least a few weeks.
With the relaxation of rules, airlines can create more efficient routes to destinations, resulting in fewer flights and less fuel consumption. Additionally, American Airlines operating flights to Asia have faced airspace restrictions in recent years, including the need to avoid Russian airspace. Some flights have had to reroute and take longer flight paths, while others have suspended operations on economically unviable routes. Reopening the Kabul FIR provides potential relief for these airlines, allowing them to resume operations to certain destinations.
Flying over Afghanistan (FL 320): benefits and risks
According to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), airlines are advised to avoid flying below flight level 320 in Afghan airspace, but not above it. It’s important to note that the FAA’s decision does not eliminate the risks involved, and airlines and travellers must adhere to any additional security measures that may be implemented.
The FAA maintains that flights below FL 320 are potentially unsafe, as ground forces in the region may still have access to a wide range of weapons that could pose a danger to civil aircraft. To prevent commercial aviation below FL 320 in the Kabul FIR, the United States government prohibits all US-registered aircraft and personnel from flying below that level.
Nearly a year after the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, many regular operators ceased operations in the region. However, in September of last year, the government reached an agreement with Abu Dhabi-based company GAAC Holdings to manage three airports, including Kabul International Airport (KBL).
The permission for high-altitude (FL 320 ) flights over Afghanistan granted by the FAA marks a significant step forward for the aviation industry. This agreement signifies the gradual normalization of airspace operations in the region, benefitting airlines and travelers.
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