RAWALPINDI: The Pak­istan International Airlines (PIA) has suspended its Kabul flights operations till further notice.

A PIA spokesman said the decision was taken in view of changed dynamics and non-conducive conditions (at Kabul airport) for international flight operations.

He said the decision to keep flying into Kabul even after the change in regime (takeover by the Taliban) was taken on purely humanitarian grounds, adding that on insistence of some friendly organisations the PIA was operating chartered flights to Kabul.

He said that insurance premium on these flights was so high that it was impossible to operate scheduled flights, as Kabul airport was still considered a war zone by aircraft insurance companies and lessors.

According to the spokesperson, a load of 300 persons on a single aircraft was necessary after paying hefty insurance and operational costs. As a result, he added, any requirement to cut flying capacity in half or return to August 15 levels was impossible.

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

Reuters adds: “We are suspending our flight operations to Kabul from today because of the heavy-handedness of the authorities,” a PIA spokesman said.

Earlier, the Taliban warned PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air that their Afghan operations risked being blocked unless they agreed to cut prices that have spiralled out of the reach of most Afghans.

With most airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for flights to Islamabad have been selling for as much as $2,500 on PIA, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared with $120-$150 before.

The Afghan transport ministry said in a statement prices on the route should “be adjusted to correspond with the conditions of a ticket before the victory of the Islamic Emirate” or the flights would be stopped.

It urged passengers and others to report any violations.

Flights between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been severely limited since Kabul airport was reopened last month in the wake of the chaotic evacuation of more than 100,000 Westerners and vulnerable Afghans following the Taliban victory.

Abdullah, a 26 year-old employee of a pharmaceuticals company, said the PIA flights had been “a tiny window” for Afghans trying to leave the country.

“We are in bad need of these flights. The borders are closed, now if the airport is closed, it is like we are all in a cage,” he said.

PIA, which runs chartered flights to Kabul rather than regular commercial services, said it had maintained the flights on humanitarian grounds and faced insurance premiums of as much as $400,000 as Kabul was treated as a war zone by insurers.

No comment was immediately available from Kam Air.

PIA said that ever since the new Taliban government was formed, its staff in Kabul had faced last-minute changes in regulations and flight permissions and intimidating behaviour from Taliban commanders.

It said its country representative had been held at gunpoint for hours in one incident and was only freed after the Pakistan embassy in Kabul intervened.

With a mounting economic crisis adding to worries about Afghanistan’s future under the Taliban, there has been heavy demand for flights out, made worse by repeated problems at land border crossings into Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2021

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