The Background to this question.
Back in 2021, huge political upheaval and unrest occurred when the US/Allied Forces pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban resumed control.
This led to significant concerns for aircraft operating into or over the country:
- A lack of ATC services led to concerns over the level of service that would be provided at all flight levels, and a lack of contingency measures in place
- Significant unrest raised the risk for aircraft operating at lower levels or into airports. There was a direct or indirect surface-to-air fire threats, including small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and low-altitude anti-aircraft fire
- Aircraft at or below 26,000′ were considered at risk from MANPADs and other missile type anti aircraft weaponry
- Security and safety on the ground due militant and extremmist activities, and multiple targeting of major airports.
Major states prohibited all operations into the country and most restricted overflights to only those at higher levels, or prohibited them entirely as well.
This applied to the entire OAKX/Kabul FIR.
The only exception were airways G500/P500 between POMIR and MOTMO, ATROL via GERRY.
These airways run north/south between Pakistan and Tajikistan, enabling aircraft to cross over a very small portion of Afghanistan airspace which juts out between the two neighbouring countries.
Flight Ops Impact
The impact of this is a relatively large portion of east/west airspace being unavailable for most operators resulting in increased fuel burn and length of routing.
Alternative routings require significant northerly or southerly routings, however cautions and warnings regarding Iran airspace (OIIX/Tehran FIR) require considerations too, often leading to much greater detours being required.
What has changed?
The FAA has updated their warning.
Previously, US operators were prohibited from operating over the OAKX/Kabul FIR except for on the G500/P500 route. An update to SFAR 119 now allows US operators to overfly the OAKB/Kabul FIR at or above FL320.
The new ruling can be read here, and provides a full background and explanation to the change in risk level leading to the amendment of the prohibition.
The DINS NOTAM can be read here.
What do other States say?
A full list of up to date links and relevant information can be found on the EASA CZIBs page here.
- UK: Do not enter the OAKX/Kabul FIR below 25,000 FT. Airways P500 and G500 are exempt for transiting overflights
- France: Only allows flights on G500/P500 at or above FL320
- Germany: Allows flight at or above FL330 in all the OAKX/Kabul FIR, with G500/P500 not specifically mentioned. This was updated in 2023
- Canada: Recommends against entering the OAKX/Kabul FIR, except on G500/P500 at or above FL320. This was updated in 2023
Does safe mean safe?
Despite a reduced risk of surface-to-air high level attacks, the risk at lower level and on the ground remains. Operators overflying may also want to consider some of the following prior to deciding whether to overfly:
- In the event of an engine failure or pressurisation issue will aircraft be able to remain at a safe altitude?
- If aircraft need to divert in a severe emergency, what options are available to them?
- Safety and security on the ground for personnel remains extremely high risk
- The infrastructure at airports maybe be compromised if attacks occur
- There is little international oversight of ATC services and standards. Communications and contingencies should be considered
- The FAA specify that ongoing monitoring is occurring, so the situation should be reviewed by operators on a flight by flight basis via NOTAMs and other official methods.