KABUL: A United Arab Emirates firm signed a contract with Afghanistan on Thursday to manage air traffic across the country as the Taliban authorities seek to expand international flights.
While some flights are operating out of Kabul airport, significant extra support is needed for major foreign airlines to resume full service.
The full operation of the capital’s airport — which was trashed in August last year during a mass evacuation of civilians after the Taliban stormed back to power — is seen as crucial to reviving Afghanistan’s shattered economy.
On Thursday, Abu Dhabi-based GAAC signed an agreement that it expects will help bring back major international airlines.
The contract is part of more than $300 million that GAAC aims to invest in Afghanistan over a 10-year period to develop the country’s aviation sector.
The deal allows GAAC to “operationalise airspace to allow the passage of international carriers”, the company’s regional head Ibrahim Moarafi told reporters at a press conference.
He said it also permits GAAC “to restore the navigation services required for the return of major international airlines to Afghanistan’s airports”.
This includes air traffic control, communication and surveillance systems and meteorological services.
The agreement is the third signed by GAAC with Afghanistan’s ministry of civil aviation and transport this year.
GAAC, which operated in Afghanistan before the Taliban returned to power, has already been awarded separate contracts for ground handling services and the screening of passengers at Kabul and other airports.
“Despite our two previous contracts, we still had some vacuum in our operations when it came to guiding flights crossing through Afghanistan’s airspace,” said deputy minister for aviation and transport Ghulam Jelani Wafa.
“We were short of equipment, while some equipment was broken, and it used to restrict our operations,” he added.
No country has yet formally recognised the Taliban government, which has increasingly stripped away the freedoms of Afghans, particularly women.
Air traffic control at Kabul airport is currently being handled by a team of Afghans trained by experts from Uzbekistan and Qatar.The contract would run for 10 years, Ghulam Jelani Popal, deputy head of Afghanistan’s ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, told reporters at a press conference in Kabul.
He added that the group had already signed contracts with UAE state-linked GAAC over ground services and security.Ibrahim Moarafi, the General Manager and Regional Director of GAAC told reporters in Kabul that it would encourage major international airlines to return to Afghanistan.
“We believe this is the significant development,” he said. “We also believe this is a significant development as it will bring economic benefits in terms of job creation.” The Taliban, whose government remains an international pariah without formal recognition, have courted regional powers, including Qatar and Turkey, to operate Kabul airport, landlocked Afghanistan’s main air link with the world, and others.
But after months of back-and-forth talks, and at one point raising the possibility of a joint UAE-Turkey-Qatar deal the Taliban in recent months decided to hand operations in their entirety to the UAE, sources had said in July.