“Airspace over Afghanistan is declared closed, so no aircraft can operate there. Our scheduled flight to Kabul also cannot go,” an Air India spokesperson said.
Yesterday, Air India Flight 243 departure from Delhi to Kabul at 8:50 am India time was slightly delayed when it left with 40 Afghan passengers on an Airbus A320.
It’s a 2-hour, 5-minute flight to neighboring Afghanistan. After crossing the border on AI 243 on August 15 and the approach was expected to start, the Air India plane was ordered to hold and circle at 16,000 feet altitude for another 90 minutes before it was allowed to land.
Landing can sometimes be delayed due to poor air communication in Afghanistan airspace.
The people of Kabul were left in a state of panic as news broke that the Taliban had surrounded the city that day. The Afghan government was fleeing the country, and the city itself was in turmoil.
Air India 243, a Star Alliance flight operated by Air India, was carrying 6 crew members and 40 passengers from Delhi to Kabul without knowing if they were going to be allowed to land even after they reached Kabul airspace. The plane was ordered to circle the sky for no apparent reason.
For the next 90 minutes, Air India circled the sky at an altitude of 16,000 feet. The Air India flight had departed with extra jet fuel. The experienced pilot knew that there might be a delay in landing due to poor flight communications in Kabul airspace at times.
Like the India plane, 2 more foreign planes were flying without permission to land. In addition to the Taliban taking over the city, operating an aircraft over Kabul is a bit of a challenge.
Kabul airport is often “busy and tedious” pilots say. During this time of the year, flying into the city poses an extra challenge: the winds are strong and gusty.
The 160-seat aircraft was piloted by Captain Aditya Chopra.
Permission was finally granted at 3:30 pm local time for the plane to land.
Little did the passengers and crew know, however, that the political situation in Kabul was deteriorating. Even after the plane landed, none of the crew left the cockpit, which is usually common in Kabul. After a wait of about an hour-and-a-half, the Air India flight boarded 129 passengers and departed for Delhi again.
The plane was carrying India embassy staff, Afghan government officials, at least two Afghan MPs, and a senior adviser to former President Ashraf Ghani.
A passenger said that he could see people at the Kabul airport in despair trying to leave.
On Monday, Air India had a scheduled flight for Kabul from Delhi at 8:50 am. It first was delayed to 12:50 pm and subsequently suspended following the closure of airspace in Afghanistan after a NOTAM – Notice to Airmen, an official notice containing information on flight operations, was issued.
Some passengers on the plane recounted that they could “sense the tension on the ground,” but it was not clear what it was all about.
There were soldiers skirting the runways. There was also a roar of air activity: C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft and Chinook helicopters were flying in and out.
And they saw civilian airplanes belonging to Pakistan (PIA) and Qatar Airways parked on the tarmac.