Airlines reroute flights to avoid Afghanistan airspace

A plane leaving the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug 15, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Major airlines are rerouting flights to avoid Afghanistan airspace after insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul as United States-led forces departed and Western nations scrambled on Monday (Aug 16) to evacuate their citizens.

United Airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic said they were not using the country's airspace.

A United spokesman said the change affects several of the airline's US-to-India flights.

Flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 showed few commercial flights over Afghanistan at 0300 GMT on Monday (11am Singapore time), but many planes overflying neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

Airlines and governments have paid more attention to the risks of flying over conflict zones in recent years after two deadly incidents involving surface-to-air missiles.

A Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board, and an Ukraine International Airlines jet was downed by Iran's military last year, killing all 176 passengers and crew.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last month imposed new flight restrictions over Afghanistan for US airlines and other US operators.

The FAA said flights operating below 26,000 feet were prohibited in the Kabul Flight Information Region, which largely covers Afghanistan, unless operating in and out of Hamid Karzai International Airport, citing the risk "posed by extremist/militant activity".

The restrictions do not apply to US military operations.

Other countries, including Canada, Britain, Germany and France, had also advised airlines to maintain an altitude of at least 25,000ft over Afghanistan, according to website Safe Airspace, which tracks such warnings.

Commercial flights set to land in Afghanistan have also been affected by the chaos on the ground.

Emirates has suspended flights to Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, until further notice, the airline said on its website.

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