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Afghan air route hotter with Safi entry

india Updated: Apr 30, 2010 00:29 IST
Tushar Srivastava

Safi airways, a private Afghan carrier, could soon become the fourth airline from that country to operate flights to India.

Kabul is of huge strategic importance to New Delhi, where it has invested heavily. Already three carriers from that country — Ariana Afghan Airlines, Pamir Airlines and Kam Air — operate 14-flights-a-week to and from Delhi. Air India, the only Indian carrier having operations to Afghanistan, operates six-flights-a-week to Kabul.

India was one of the first countries to resume commercial air operations to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban regime.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has given its in-principle approval to Safi Airways to operate flights to India. The “operating authorisation”, as it is known in aviation parlance, means that Safi can begin its India operations the moment “seats per week” are available as per the “Air Services Agreement” between the two countries.

Ariana, Pamir and Kam Air are already utilising all the available seats on the route, a senior DGCA official said on condition of anonymity.

“Besides those who come here for medical reasons, a lot of Afghans come to India for education, business and also as tourists,” said Tulsi Kesharwani, an aviation expert, who was part of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) team that had visited Kabul some years ago to prepare a master plan for airport development in that country.

“A lot of international delegations and officials of organisations like the United Nations regularly fly with us,” said a NACIL official, who did not wish to be named.

Founded in 2006 with its headquarters in Kabul, Safi operates a purely Boeing fleet of B737-300 and B 767-200ER. It’s the preferred carrier of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who, the airline says on its website, has flown on it since 2009 for his visits abroad.

“In an audit by ICAO inspectors of all Afghan airlines, Safi Airways has been certificated (sic) as the only Afghan airline which is ICAO compliant,” it says.

The traffic on the Delhi-Kabul route is consistent and most airlines are operating with good margins.

“The rush is very high during winters — that stretches for almost five months. All airlines operating on the route are packed to capacity during that time. This has to do with the severe winter in Afghanistan and also because a lot of people travel to India for medical reasons. During other months, too, business is not bad,” said Khalid Noory, station manager, Ariana Airlines, India.