The United States will stop managing Afghan airspace by the end of June as its air-traffic control contract with Afghanistan expires, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
According to an internal NATO memo seen by the AP, the US will not extend its current contract. The development could mean that international airlines have to cancel flights over the territory and into the country, making the war torn country a no-fly zone.
If a solution is not found, it could cost the Afghan government millions of dollars in revenue and damage its credibility with foreign investors and donors, officials in Kabul warn.
After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, the Afghan airspace has been managed by the US-led coalition or foreign companies paid by donor nations. According to the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority's deputy director general on policy and planning, air traffic to, from and over Afghanistan generates about $33 million a year.
While international airlines like Emirates, Air India and Turkish Airlines fly into Kabul, there are no flights to and from the European Union as the does not recognise Afghan Civil Aviation Authority because of safety deficiencies.
At the centre of this situation is Kabul's reluctance to take over responsibility for its airspace and put a new contract in place.
“The international community does not want to be in a situation where we are continuously stuck with paying for this because they (Afghan authorities) are simply not seriously going to take it over,” a Western diplomat in Kabul told AP. “This is causing reluctance with some of the partners who would otherwise bridge the gap.”
However, Japan is considering using some of its development fund for a “bridging contract” to cover the cost of the second half of 2015, which amounts to $25 million. However, Tokyo's approval is conditional on the contract not facilitating military operations in Afghanistan, which is prohibited under Japanese law.
The official at the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority said that Kabul is confident Japan will step in, and that Afghanistan will take over managing its airspace from January 2016, he added.
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