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Air India resumes flights to Kabul, SpiceJet to stay away

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But pilots want Air India to immediately stop flights to Kabul after the missile attack on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 added a new dimension.

India’s communication link with Kabul resumed on Saturday after being suspended for two days following the July 17, 2014 attack on Kabul airport.

“We are operating the flight today and we will be operating it normally,” said Air India officials even as some of its pilots in Mumbai opposed “political pressure” to resumption of flights without fail-safe measures.

Indian civil aviation authorities maintained there was no such pressure and have passed on the onus of resumption of flights to Kabul to the two airlines of which SpiceJet has publicly announced suspension of operations. Public carrier Air India did not fly to Kabul on Thursday, the day gunmen attacked the airport with rocket propelled grenades and automatic gunfire, and the next day.

They also said Afghan authorities had assured them about enhanced security measures at Kabul airport that include surveillance on all high rise buildings overlooking the airport, increased patrolling and more mock exercises.

Afghan sources in New Delhi maintained that the airport was safe and this had been conveyed to the Indian authorities. “Now it is up to them,” said an Embassy official.

Civilian flights are the mainstay of India’s links with Kabul especially because Pakistan denies direct access to Afghanistan. The other route into Afghanistan via Iran is still in the making. Flights from India to Kabul, besides bringing businessmen and reconstruction officials, are also a vote of confidence in the Afghan government which is battling the Taliban.

But pilots, both serving and retired, unanimously want Air India to immediately stop flights to Kabul after the missile attack on a Malaysian Airlines flight added a new dimension.

“We hear there is political pressure or compulsion to operate flights (to Kabul) which is wrong. DGCA should immediately ban all flights to Kabul which has come under repeated rocket attacks. Air India cannot put the lives of passengers and crew at risk,” Captain (retd.) R.S. Rosha, former director in-flight service and operations, Indian Airlines.

“What are we going to prove? There should not be any compromise on safety. All flights must stop. Those very keen to go there must take to the road,” said a serving pilot asking not to be named.

“If the government insists, then the pilots must refuse to operate flights. The matter ends there. I think pilot unions should issue directives to members not to fly into conflict zones,” said Capt. (retd.) Girish Kaushik, a veteran pilot who had once led a week-long strike at Jet Airways.

Government sources were unsympathetic with the approach. “Emirates and Turkish Airlines were operating flights to Kabul. Don’t tell me they are not bothered about security,” they said while regretting that SpiceJet had been hasty in announcing suspension of operations to Kabul. Earlier too when there was an attack on Kabul airport, they made it out as if their plane alone was the target when there were several more planes on the tarmac, they said.

Government sources also allayed fears about a Ukraine-type attack taking place in Afghanistan. The Taliban is not known to have the equipment to hit planes at 30,000 feet, they said.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 8:24:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/air-india-resumes-flights-to-kabul-spicejet-to-stay-away/article6229087.ece

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