Transportation Updates

PIA Stops Flights To Kabul Over “Heavy Handed” Taliban

As Afghanistan restores parts of its aviation sector under its new Taliban government, Pakistan International Airlines is suspending its own services to the country. On Thursday, October 14th, the airline announced via Twitter that it would be suspending its flight operations to Kabul until conditions there improve.

PIA was the first airline to operate a commercial international flight since the Taliban retook power in late August. Photo: Getty Images

Unconducive for international-level flight operations

Taking to Twitter, PIA informed its customers and the broader public that it had decided to suspend its flights to Kabul International Airport until the “situation on the ground improves and conditions become more conducive” for international flights.

#PIA has decided to suspend its Flt Ops to #Kabul till situation on ground improves and conditions become more conducive for Int’l level Flt Ops. PIA was only operating Charter Flts purely on humanitarian considerations as really high insurance costs make regular Ops impossible

— PIA (@Official_PIA) October 14, 2021

According to Reuters, the airline had cited substantial interference by Taliban authorities. Indeed, the media outlet reported that the government ordered the airline to cut ticket prices to pre-August 2021 levels, before the western-backed government fell to the Taliban.

“We are suspending our flight operations to Kabul from today because of the heavy-handedness of the authorities,” -Abdullah Hafeez Khan, PIA spokesperson via Reuters

PIA has also reported that its Kabul-based staff have encountered last-minute changes in regulations and flight permissions, as well as intimidating behavior from Taliban commanders. Indeed, in one extreme example, PIA’s country representative had been held at gunpoint for hours in one incident, freed only after intervention from the embassy of Pakistan in Kabul.

Flights such as PK6249 from Islamabad to Kabul are now suspended. The flight was just 40-60 minutes in duration. Photo:

Skyrocketing costs

At the center of this flight-suspension is the cost of airfare. The Taliban had previously warned PIA that their Afghan operations could be blocked unless they cut prices. The same warning was issued to Afghan carrier Kam Air.

The biggest reason for the Taliban’s meddling is due to the fact that ticket prices have surged beyond what is affordable for many living in the country. DW reports that one-way flights from Kabul to Islamabad have surged to around $1,600 since its operations resumed after the August takeover. In fact, this figure is on the lower end, with tickets reportedly selling for as much as $2,500. The price before the takeover was just $150.

The airline says that, from a business perspective, flights have not been very lucrative. At this point, PIA is the only international carrier regularly operating out of Kabul.

“We would pay more than $400,000 as insurance premium, which could only be possible if 300 passengers are available,” -Abdullah Hafeez Khan, PIA spokesperson via DW

In addition to a Boeing 777, PIA had occasionally been using an Airbus A320 for its Kabul services. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons 

Flights in and out of Afghanistan, operated by both Kam Air and PIA, are critical for those hoping to leave, as well as for international officials and aid workers heading into the country. The Taliban government’s response to PIA has yet to be seen.

What do you think of this situation? How do you think the Taliban government of Afghanistan will respond to PIA’s flight suspension? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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