Domestic Airlines Concerned Over Open Sky Policy

The managing directors of three Afghan airlines and ACCI management expressed concerns over the impending approval of an Open Sky policy by the Council of Ministers, at a press conference held here

today. This policy allows international air carriers to operate freely in Afghanistan.

The managing directors contend that a deregulated environment likely means that revenues of Afghan air carriers would be severely weakened and perhaps lead to bankruptcy, if the policy is approved by the Council of Ministers.

On average, Afghan air carriers operate 100 domestic and international flights each week. These airlines have created approximately 1,800 jobs and have had a positive impact on the business of travel agencies.

“Only a few countries have adopted an Open Sky policy in the world.  Even UAE, as the business hub for countries in the gulf region, does not have such a policy because it understands that it must support national, UAE-based air carriers,” said Mr. Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, CEO-ACCI.

Additionally, Mr. Haqjo remarked that international air carriers are interested in coming to Afghanistan because they sense a big, immediate opportunity but may likely leave after complete withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014.  “There is no guarantee they will stay beyond 2014,” he said.

Further, Mr. Haqjo cited examples of government support for national carriers.  “The Iranian Embassy in Kabul will only issue a visa to applicants who have a return ticket on Aseman Airlines (Iranian air carrier).  In Canada, the government has suspended flights of Emirate Airlines to protect Canadian air carriers,” said Mr. Haqjo.

Mr. Farid Paikar of Kam Air articulated the progress of Kam Air to date. “Three years ago, we only served the domestic market.  Today, we have added 6 international flights to our schedule.  In fact, it is the Afghan air carriers that have created the local market for air transportation.  If international air carriers come to Afghanistan, they harm our rights and efforts,” he said.

The Deputy of Chairman of Ariana Airlines, Mr. Lutfulla Taslim, underlined that several air carriers who have contracts with NATO and ISAF, land in Afghanistan without coordinating their efforts with Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation.  “We are aware that Turkish and El-Etihad airlines both land in Kabul, Kandahar, Heart, and Bagram airports without any coordination with the Ministry.  If they can operate so freely now, what then will happen if the government passes the Open Sky policy,” said Mr. Taslim.

Mr. Abdul Rahman Sultani, Finance Director of Safi Airlines mentioned the significant cost of fuel for Afghan air carriers.  “We purchase oil from the domestic market and it is more expensive than what international air carriers can purchase from international airports.  It is the main reason why the prices of our tickets are more expensive than other international airlines.”

Separately, the three Afghan air carriers and ACCI asked the government to consider national interest when creating policies, as in the case of the Open Sky policy.

Finally, the three domestic carriers elected to establish an airlines union that would work in coordination with ACCI to advocate and lobby their collective interests.