FAA restricts US airlines from flying over Afghanistan

Alan Levin

U.S. airlines will have to get special permission to fly over Afghanistan because there are no longer air-traffic controllers overseeing the skies under the new Taliban leadership, aviation regulators said late Wednesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a legally binding notice to U.S.-licensed operators requiring that they notify the agency before flying over Afghan territory.

The FAA action comes as the U.S. military is engaged in a mission to evacuate American citizens, people holding special immigrant visas and others from the airport in Kabul. The order will not prohibit relief and military flights.

Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) await a flight to Kabul Afghanistan, at Al Udeied Air Base, Qatar Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.

It’s unclear how many U.S. flights will be covered under the order. United Airlines announced Aug. 15 that it was no longer flying over the nation and few U.S. carriers operate in the region.

The U.S. military is guiding aircraft within close proximity of the airport in Kabul, but that is the only part of Afghanistan where planes are tracked by controllers.

American intelligence officials didn’t foresee such a rapid collapse of the Afghan military, and the U.S. now has a limited ability to aid allies stuck in Kabul, the Pentagon’s top leaders said earlier Wednesday.

President Joe Biden said U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan until all Americans are able to leave the country – even if it takes longer than his Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw.

“If there are American citizens left, we’re going to stay to get them all out,” Biden told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News in a Wednesday interview.