US to Stop Managing Afghan Airspace by End of June

Contract from 2001 to run out as Afghan govt. refuses to pay for extension, making the country a de facto no-fly zone.

Ari Yashar ,

US Defense Secretary Hagel visits Afghanistan (file)
US Defense Secretary Hagel visits Afghanistan (file)

The US will stop managing Afghan airspace by June 30 as an air-traffic control contract with the local government expires, potentially signalling the end of international flights to and over the country, reports the Associated Press (AP) on Wednesday.

The change is estimated to essentially make Afghanistan a no-fly zone, given the rampant terrorist activity in the country by the Taliban and potentially by Islamic State (ISIS).

Airspace over Afghanistan has been a key flight corridor between Europe and Asia, and has been managed by a US-led coalition since 2001, when the US launched a military operation in the country to overthrow the Taliban terrorist regime.

Air traffic over the country generates roughly $33 million annually according to Mohammad Qassim Wafayezada, the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority's deputy director general on policy and planning.

No EU flights go directly to Afghanistan, given that the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority is not recognized by the EU over safety deficiencies.

The Afghan government appears not to be willing to pay for a renewal of the US management of its airspace.

"The international community does not want to be in a situation where we are continuously stuck with paying for this because they (Afghan authorities) are simply not seriously going to take it over," a Western diplomat in Kabul told AP. "This is causing reluctance with some of the partners who would otherwise bridge the gap."

An internal NATO memo seen by the news source said the US will not extend the contract until the end of 2015, an extension that would have cost $25 million.

However, a Japanese official said Tokyo may provide the $25 million from its development fund as long as the contract is not used for military operations in Afghanistan.

"Our government is considering" this, the official said. "We think (a decision) should be very quick - hopefully before the expiry of the U.S. contract."

Wafayezada said if Japan steps in to help, Afghanistan will manage its own airspace from January 2016. That transfer was supposed to happen this January, but "technical issues" made that impossible according to the Afghan aviation official.