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Thursday October 28, 2021

PIA suspends Afghan operations on Taliban interference

October 15, 2021
PIA suspends Afghan operations on Taliban interference

KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) on Thursday suspended its flights to Kabul amid changed dynamics and non-conducive conditions for international flight operations, including ‘unprofessional attitude’ of Taliban authorities.

PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said the decision to keep flying into Kabul even after the change in regime was taken on purely humanitarian grounds, and on strong insistence of some friendly organisations.

“PIA was operating charter flights to Kabul,” he said. “The insurance premium on these flights is so high that it is simply impossible to operate scheduled flights, as it is still considered a war zone by aircraft insurance companies and lessors.” The Taliban government had asked PIA to cut ticket prices to the same levels, which were in place before the fall of the Afghan government in August. They warned PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air of restricting their operations in the country if they did not cut ticket prices to levels prevalent when they came into power.

“It required a load of 300 people on a single flight to break even after paying high insurance and operating costs. Hence any imposition to reduce the flight capacity by half or reverting back to August 15 levels is simply not possible,” the spokesman added.

Afghanistan’s aviation ministry, media outlets reported, also ordered PIA to reduce the number of passengers to 50 percent from one flight this week, which was already in the process of checking in. It resulted in 176 people being sent back home by the airline officials. It caused a loss of nearly $500,000 to the airline due to higher insurance costs.

“PIA at the moment is holding and would re-evaluate its options till the situation on ground improves and becomes more conducive for international operations,” Hafeez concluded.

After the Taliban took control over Afghanistan, international airlines were reluctant to operate in the war-torn country. A media report quoting travel agents in Kabul said that the tickets for flights to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, were selling for as high as $2,500 on PIA. The travel agents in Kabul claimed that the ticket rates were around $120-$150 before the Taliban came into power in August.

However, a source in the airline said that the main reason behind the suspension of PIA flight operations from Kabul was that Taliban commanders were showing high handedness to the airline’s officials.

The source accused Taliban of changing flight permissions at short notices against the international standards and also changing regulations at whim. The source also claimed that PIA’s country representative in Afghanistan was also held up at gunpoint for hours on suspicion of aiding and abetting people seeking to flee Afghanistan.