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With the Taliban having officially taken over all Afghan Governmental buildings in Kabul, it can be said that the nation is more or less under the rule of the Islamic caliphate for now. However, scenes of people trying to escape the country via Kabul International Airport for the past 72 hours have now emerged onto the web and it is evident that the airport, as of now (18/08), still represents a minor pocket in the country where the Taliban have not managed to exert full dominance over.

Afghan civilians pack the tarmac at Kabul Hamid Karzai Int’l Airport. Image courtesy of DW News

Turkish Airlines’ final flight out

With the Taliban having effectively taken over the capital, nations with interests in Afghanistan such as the United Kingdom and United States amongst others are now in the onerous process of pulling their people and interests out of the country. Both the UK and US have sent troops alongside dedicated military aircraft such as the Airbus A330mrtt or the Boeing C17 Globemaster to facilitate in this process, with commercial options having pretty much dried out following the closure of Afghan Air Traffic Control and advisories to stay out of the area. Emirates, for one, had to turn back a Boeing 777-300 which was about to land in Kabul on Sunday 15th of August given how the dire the situation had become. 

Notice by the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority denoting the closure of normal ATC services. Image courtesy of ACAA

However, where Emirates backed out, one Airline decided to buck this trend and send a full-on Boeing 777-300 (TC-JJM)  to Kabul anyway to pull their citizens out. Turkish Airlines Flight 706 departed Istanbul at around 1.20am local time on the 16th of August in the morning and after nearly 5 hours of flight time, touched down in Kabul at 7.44am local time. Known or unknown to the crew, their turnaround on the ground in Afghanistan would not be what they normally trained for. 

On the ground, the evacuation of Turkish citizens began amidst the airport itself falling into a state of chaos with desperate Afghans attempting to board evacuation flights leaving the country and US troops firing warning shots to deter the crowds. Unverified reports state that instead of using the usual civilian terminals at the airport, the aircraft was parked at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) complex in preparation for the return leg. 

At around 11.53am, the Turkish 777 with 342 passengers onboard began making it’s way back towards the runway for the return flight back to Istanbul. However, probably due to the sheer number of people who had packed the runway, the pilots were forced to abort the takeoff attempt and return to the ISAF controlled part of the airport. 

However, at 1.14pm, quite possibly after awaiting some form of security at the airport to be re-established, TK707 taxied back out to attempt another takeoff, and this time, the pilots were successful in bringing the aircraft off the ground.  

After which, following a relatively uneventful 5 hours in the air, the Boeing 777 touched back down in Istanbul at 4.48pm local time, concluding what may be one of the final commercial flights out of the country. 

Our final thoughts

Given how the Taliban have become the official ruling party of Afghanistan at this juncture with  reports of chaos and mayhem still being a problem at the airport itself, it is unlikely that we will see a scheduled civilian flight to Kabul in the near or forseeable future. Once a nation with a thriving airspace due to overflights from Asia to Europe and vice versa, Afghan skies have now become desolate except for the occasional roar of military aircraft desperately pulling people out of the graveyard of empires. 

It is uncertain what aviation in Afghanistan will be like in the medium to long term future once all evacuation flights are done and dusted, which will be soon. United States President Joe Biden has stated that the US remains committed to it’s decision to leave the country; and it is likely that America’s allies will follow suit with the same decision. This means that the development of the aviation sector in Afghanistan will be left to the Taliban itself. 

However, with the track record and reputation that the Taliban has had in the past for human rights abuses and global terrorism, it is not known whether the newly formed Afghan government will be successful in trading and interacting with other nations should sanctions come into place. Sure, they might have a couple of aged Airbus A340s and Boeing 737s left behind by previous carriers such as Ariana Afghan and Kam Air, but with potential sanctions and a lack of crew members to operate such flights, it would be hard to see these planes ever leave the ground. 

Would Afghanistan become the next hermit Kingdom of the world with a reputation to match that of North Korea with little to nothing in it’s skies? Well, that’s certainly on the table. But for now, we can only sit, watch and pray for what’s going on in hopes that the situation will turn out for the better. 

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