KABUL- In November 2021, American Airlines (AA) inaugurated its service between New York (JFK) and Delhi (DEL). However, they encountered diplomatic hurdles when seeking permission to fly over Russian airspace. This led to longer, less direct flight paths, resulting in occasional diversions due to crew duty time constraints.
Moreover, the situation escalated when Russia invaded Ukraine, causing U.S. airlines to be entirely barred from overflying Russian territory. This presented challenges for United Airlines (UA) as well in maintaining service to India.
American Airlines Allowed to Fly Over Kabul
American Airlines expressed its interest in routing flights over Kabul, Afghanistan. However, there were restrictions in place for safety reasons.
The FAA prohibited flights below 32,000 feet within the Kabul Flight Information Region (FIR), as there was a concern that terrorists might attempt to target aircraft flying above.
Unfortunately, American’s Boeing 777-300ER was unable to operate above 32,000 feet in this region under specific weather conditions, further complicating the Delhi route.
American Airlines has now sought and been granted an exemption to operate below 32,000 feet, allowing them to fly through the area at an altitude of 30,000 feet. While not as efficient as flying over the Urals, this adjustment will shorten the journey for American Airlines.
Risk Flying in the Region
The FAA acknowledges a theoretical risk associated with the situation, primarily due to the following factors:
- Violent extremists and militants potentially have access to weapons that could pose risks up to an altitude of 25,000 feet.
- The presence of high terrain near jet routes P500-G500 creates the possibility of these weapons being within range.
It’s worth noting that despite these theoretical concerns, no such incidents have occurred, both when the U.S. operated within the region and in the two years since their departure. Additionally, American Airlines flights 292 and 293 adhere to published schedules and can be tracked.
However, there are some key points to consider:
- The NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) for the area (G0306/23) allows for overflight at 30,000 feet.
- The distance between waypoints FIRUZ and MOTMO, where this exemption applies, is just 12 nautical miles, and crossing this area at 30,000 feet takes a mere 95 seconds.
As a result, the FAA has determined that granting an exemption from the 32,000-foot limit to allow flights at 30,000 feet does not have an adverse impact on safety.
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