PIA suspended flights to Kabul over unprofessional attitude

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said on Thursday it had suspended flights to Kabul over the “unprofessional attitude” of Taliban authorities.

“Our flights frequently faced undue delays because of the unprofessional attitude of the Kabul aviation authorities,” Abdullah Hafeez Khan, the PIA spokesman told AFP.

The route will remain suspended until “the situation becomes conducive,” he added.

In a separate statement, the spokesperson emphasised the fact that the PIA had kept flying in and out of Kabul under "difficult circumstances" when others had ceased their operations.

He was referring to the part the PIA played in the mass evacuations following the Taliban's swift take over of Kabul in August, which created a rush among those stuck in the Afghan capital to get out amid a dearth of flights.

"The PIA evacuated around 3,000 people after the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan," said the PIA spokesperson, adding that among the people flown out of Kabul were officials of the United Nations, World Bank, the IMF, other global organisations as well as international journalists.

The spokesperson said that the PIA's captains and staff endangered their lives but still kept the evacuation process going.

But the airline said the flight operation was “not very lucrative financially” and it was only operating flights on “humanitarian grounds”.

“We would pay more than $400,000 as insurance premium which could only be possible if 300 passengers are available,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said that his government will investigate reports regarding the alleged mistreatment of PIA officials and passengers by authorities at Kabul international airport.

“We will investigate reports of maltreatment and will rectify it. All companies and businesses are very important for us. We adopt a positive approach [towards] Pakistani businesses,” Mujahid, who is also the Taliban government’s deputy information minister, told Dawn.com in an audio message.

Taliban ask airlines to slash prices
The development comes as Afghanistan's Taliban government on Thursday asked the PIA and Afghan Kam Air to reduce fares on the Kabul-Islamabad route to previous levels or face a halt to their flight operations.

Both airlines have not yet started commercial flights and operate chartered flights with high fares.

A letter from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation asked the PIA and Kam Air to bring down the airfare for Kabul-Islamabad flights to the level that existed before the Taliban seized control of Kabul on August 15.

The letter in Pashto and Dari languages was issued by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and was also posted on the official Facebook page of the Afghan Aviation Ministry.

“Information has been conveyed to PIA and Kam Air private company to bring down the fare on the Kabul-Islamabad route to the level prior to the victory of the Islamic Emirate. If the airlines do not agree to this proposal their operations on the route will be stopped,” the letter said.

It asked passengers to contact the ministry in case the prices of the tickets were not changed.

An Islamabad-based journalist, who returned from Kabul on Wednesday, told Dawn.com that she paid $2,700 ($1,200 for the flight to Kabul and $1,600 for the return flight) for PIA’s Islamabad-Kabul-Islamabad ticket.

Kam Air charges over Rs200,000 for return tickets, according to the airline's office in Islamabad. PIA argues it charges more because of high insurance rates.

Kam Air, which had announced the cancellation of its flights to Pakistan on Oct 9, resumed operations on Wednesday but the airline was unable to inform passengers on time and several missed the flight, according to a passenger who had reserved a seat but could not proceed to Kabul.

Kam Air had claimed that it had announced the cancellation of flights after Pakistan denied permission to it.Pakistan has now made it mandatory for airlines to provide details of all passengers days before their departure from Kabul.

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