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The Afghan Skies Remain Unsafe

By Zabi Sarwar
October 8, 2008

Zabi Sarwar offers a concise and pointed criticism of Afghan aviation, and reminds us that despite international aid, safety and regulation aren’t improving.


With allied military forces in Afghanistan for last few years, aviation has experienced minor overall safety improvements, however not a hint of this has altered the aviation sector in Afghanistan.

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Photo © Hakan Ozkocak

Overhead, one can regularly hear the roar of an airliner of catch a glimpse of some distant contrails, but in Afghanistan, we never know just how safe or unsafe those pilots’ hands are. It’s an unfortunate fact that there are no proper flying schools or educated and licensed flying instructors in Afghanistan.

So without training or licensing, just how are these pilots flying in Afghanistan today? The majority of commercial pilots flying for the government and private airlines are unqualified and have been licensed as flying commanders because they have a connection at the powerful Ministry of Civil Aviation and have earned their counterfeit licenses through bribery. Among the grandiose problems within this amateur group, an important one is the general deficiency in English proficiency, which greatly amplifies risks during emergencies.

Afghan airlines like Ariana and Kam are famous for their poor-quality maintenance and crew training, and this produces an exponentially higher risk that they will encounter trouble in-flight, and that such troubles will be less effectively resolved. Recently, the European Union banned several Afghan airlines—most notably Ariana Afghan Airlines—from flying into Europe due to safety issues, declaring them unsafe by international standards.

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Photo © Neil Jones

Even when pilots-to-be go through the appropriate processes to become legitimately licensed, the process typically consists of no more than simulator training. No proof of flight school graduation or even attendance is needed in tandem with proof of simulator training, even though the powerful Ministry of Civil Aviation has been receiving financial aid from multiple countries to help them meet international standards.

Everyday in Afghanistan, private and commercial airlines are flying without legal authorization and without meeting international safety standards, and unqualified employees within the Ministry of Civil Aviation are able to manipulate the system without inhibition or intimidation. The time has make safety the priority in Afghan aviation. Legitimate flight training schools with qualified and certified instructors need to be installed in Afghanistan immediately, and rigorous oversight of the process by which pilots are trained, educated, and licensed must follow. Without these crucial steps, nothing can ensure safety to those flying in Afghanistan.

Written by
Zabi Sarwar

Zabi Sarwar is from Afghanistan and a third year university student studying computer engineering. Sarwar has always had an interest in aviation, and gained knowledge of airplanes and flying through extensive flight simulator training in wide body airliners over the last nine years.

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