Jordan will resume direct commercial flights to Syria for the first time in almost 10 years.
Royal Jordanian Airlines will begin flying Amman-Damascus on October 3 — first time since it was forced to end all operations to the country due to the conflict in Syria.
The decision to resume flights was part of several taken at a two-day ministerial meeting that ended on Tuesday in Amman to boost bilateral trade, investment, and transport ties.
Jordan will fully reopen its main border crossing with Syria from Wednesday after imposing pandemic-related restrictions.
In 2010, Damascus Airport scheduled around 400+ weekly departures to over 50 international destinations.
In the year prior to the civil war, Damascus handled around 4.5mn passengers — and up until the war, was demonstrating year-on-year growth.
Before the pandemic I sat down with the CEO of Royal Jordanian, Stefan Pichler, at the airlines’ headquarters in Amman, Jordan. “We want to fly to Syria, it’s a very important market for us” he told me, as we glanced over photos of Royal Jordanian jets parked at Damascus airport.
Royal Jordanian operated daily scheduled flights between Amman and both Damascus, and Aleppo. The flag carrier airline was one of the last to withdraw, in mid-2012.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the Taliban is asking airlines to resume commercial flights to Kabul, saying the airport is now "fully operational" and promising "full co-operation" with airlines — but as the group will quickly learn, it’s just not that simple.
Foreign airlines withdrew from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover, and with the entire Kabul airspace area (FIR) remaining uncontrolled – without air traffic control provisions – it is incredibly unlikely we will see any airline restore operations to Kabul in the near future.
The major risks remain: a lack of air traffic control, the risk of anti-aircraft fire at low altitudes, and the fact there is only a limited tower service for VFR operations only – visual flight rules, a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough for visual operations.
Additionally, aircraft insurers, aircraft leasing companies, and insurers of airlines themselves are warning international airline operators that, in most circumstances, they would not be covered on flights to/from Kabul amid the immense uncertainty ever since the Taliban took control.
Qatar, which sent technical teams to repair airport, reportedly told the Taliban they should accept a foreign presence and operator, such as Turkey, if Kabul is going to operate as an international airport.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had publicly highlighted initial interest in assisting with the operations of Kabul airport, even discussing the potential of Turkey managing Kabul airport with US President Joe Biden during their first meeting back in June, before US troops left Afghanistan.
But Erdogan had updated his position by stating there will be no deal with Taliban on the airport unless the Taliban has a diverse and comprehensive government and treats women properly. Erdogan has said that Ankara will work with the Taliban if they are recognised globally as the new rulers of Afghanistan, and only if women are included in its cabinet of ministers.
“Turkey’s approach towards women is quite well-known: women are present in every aspect of life. Our views would apply to Afghanistan as well. Whenever women become more involved, more active in every aspect of life, we can support them if they would need us in healthcare, security, and other walks of life,” he said in the televised interview. Turkey had been planning to help, secure and run the airport.
The Taliban has written to India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation to ask for the resumption of commercial flights between India and Afghanistan (Kabul).
A letter from the group was sent to the DGCA earlier this month and is under review by the Civil Aviation Ministry. Addressed to DGCA chief Arun Kumar, the letter says the airport was "left damaged and dysfunctional by American troops before their withdrawal" and that it had since become operational with help from the State Qatar – who were mediating between the US-Taliban, and the now-ousted Afghan government and the Taliban.
"The intention of this letter is to keep smooth passenger movement between the two countries based on signed MoU and our National Carriers (Ariana Afghan Airline & Kam Air) aimed to commence scheduled flights. Therefore, Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority requests you to facilitate commercial flights," acting Aviation Minister Alhaj Hameedullah Akhunzada wrote.
India, like all other foreign airlines, has stopped all scheduled commercial flight operations to Kabul when the Taliban swept into the Afghan capital and took effective control of the country.
The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir