Following the overthrow of the Afghan government by the Taliban Islamist group, the Afghanistan civil aviation authority on Monday issued a Notice to Airmen (Notam) declaring its airspace “uncontrolled” and advised all civilian traffic to avoid overflying the country. U.S. authorities have taken over air traffic control at Kabul Airport and surrounding FIRs have received notice that the civilian side of the facility has closed until further notice.
Flights from east to west now pass over the United Arab Emirates instead of Afghan airspace. “The diversions will be only for a few hundred miles,” Vishok Mansingh, CEO of Mumbai, India-based consultancy Vman Aero told AIN.
Air India flights from the U.S. have diverted to Muscat in Oman and, after refueling, will fly to India. Nonstop United Airlines flights from New York to Delhi will do the same, extending flight time by two to three hours.
“The situation is fluid, and we will have to wait and see when the airspace will be opened,” said Mansingh.
Chaotic grim scenes of locals trying to get into parked aircraft circulated on social media. A U.S. Air Force C-17 boarded 800 passengers in its cargo hold meant for 150. Air India has carried out evacuation flights. With civilian flights not allowed to land or take off, many foreign citizens remain stranded and anxiously await evacuation.
“The Taliban is fractured and nobody knows who is in control, so the risk is big,” noted Mansingh. “Besides, they have surface-to-air missiles and likely will be in a trigger-happy state of mind.”