Although Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has suspended its commercial passenger services between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the carrier is undertaking special evacuation flights in support of NATO and other European countries. The airline’s CEO met with NATO officials and the Belgian Ambassador to Pakistan on Thursday to make the announcement.
Up until recently, PIA had been one of two airlines operating international commercial services into and out of Afghanistan. Photo: Getty Images
Supporting the humanitarian cause
Although the carrier hasn’t published a full official statement on its website since May 2020, it did announce via a Twitter post on Thursday that it would be supporting “the humanitarian cause”.
Media outlet SAMAA elaborates on this reporting that the airline will start special flights to evacuate people belonging to some European and NATO countries. The announcement was made by PIA Chief Executive Air Marshal Arshad Malik, who met with members of a NATO delegation, which included Ambassador of Belgium Philippe Bronchain. During the meeting, attendees discussed the ongoing situation and the need for evacuations out of Kabul.
CEO #PIA @amarshadmalik welcomed the #NATO team led by Amb @pontecorvoste & Belgian Ambassador to Pak H.E. Mr. Philippe Bronchain. Matters of mutual interest including assistance to uplift people from #Kabul were discussed. PIA has assured full support for the humanitarian cause. pic.twitter.com/J6bCSu71L9
— PIA (@Official_PIA) October 21, 2021
The ever-changing evacuation situation
This news comes just over a week after most evacuation flights from Afghanistan were mysteriously canceled. According to CNN, a State Department email had been sent to US citizens in the country on October 11th, alerting them of the sudden change.
The flight cancelations remain shrouded in mystery as the official email did not explain why flights had been canceled. At the same time, recipients were told to “be ready to travel on short notice” due to the rapidly changing situation.
Although many evacuation flights were canceled over the past week, the French Government announced on Thursday that new evacuation operations between Kabul and Doha were carried out in recent days by Qatar. This made it possible for 15 French dependents to join their families and for 21 Afghan men and women “who were at high risk due to their work to receive protection.”
PIA operated the first commercial international flight since the Taliban retook power in August. The service took place on September 13th, 2021. Photo: Getty Images
PIA commercial flights remain suspended
PIA’s newly announced evacuation flights out of Afghanistan come just over a week after it was reported that its commercial services would be suspended. The reason for the flight suspensions, PIA stated, was because the airline had been experiencing substantial interference by Taliban authorities. Indeed, the Taliban government had ordered the airline to cut ticket prices to pre-August 2021 levels, before the western-backed government fell to the Taliban.
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Additionally, there were reports from PIA that its Kabul-based staff had encountered last-minute changes in regulations and flight permissions, as well as intimidating behavior from Taliban commanders. In one extreme example, the airline’s country representative had been held at gunpoint for hours during an incident, freed only after intervention from the embassy of Pakistan in Kabul.
#PIA has decided to suspend its Flt Ops to #Kabul till situation on ground improves and conditions become more conducive for Int’l level Flt Ops. PIA was only operating Charter Flts purely on humanitarian considerations as really high insurance costs make regular Ops impossible
— PIA (@Official_PIA) October 14, 2021
It remains to be seen if and when PIA might resume commercial services between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pre-Taliban pricing levels, a demand from the Afghan government, currently remains unfeasible and out of reach due to surging insurance premiums for flights.