EU To Impose Ban On Afghan Planes

November 22, 2010

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The European Commission is to ban Afghan aircraft from European airspace, the chief executive of Afghanistan's second-biggest airline said on Monday.

"I fully understand the European Commission's decision," said Safi Airways CEO Werner Borchert, adding the carrier was in talks to buy a European airline to circumvent the ban and keep flying passengers between Kabul and Frankfurt.

From Wednesday, aircraft registered in Afghanistan will not be allowed in European airspace after the country failed to meet demands to set up a civil aviation regulator, according to Safi.

A European Commission spokeswoman said an updated EU airline blacklist would be published on Tuesday, effective Wednesday. But she declined to say whether Afghan airlines were included.

A different Commission source said two weeks ago Afghan airlines would soon be banned from flying to the EU because the war-ravaged country has no safety regulation system.

Kabul-based Safi is the country's No. 2 airline after national carrier Ariana Afghan Airlines, already on an EU blacklist. The country's two other private airlines are Kam Air and Pamir Airways.

INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS

Safi, whose Boeing 767-200 regularly takes Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai abroad, prides itself on having higher safety standards than other Afghan carriers.

It promises customers international standards as well as aircraft maintained by Germany's Lufthansa Technik.

"The problem is that the Commission didn't exclude us from the ban," Borchert said.

Safi, owned by the Afghan Safi family, transports many expatriates and benefits from the presence of non-governmental organisations, private security companies and other foreign entities in Afghanistan.

Borchert said he hopes Safi will be able to make a deal within two or three months to buy a northern European airline that will act as operator of the carrier's five-plane fleet.

The European entity will be owned by German members of the Safi family, will own Safi's five planes and will lease them back to the Afghan carrier. That way, Safi can remain Afghan and keep rights to international routes from Kabul.

Until a deal is struck, Safi will lease a Boeing 757 aircraft from an unnamed Spanish carrier to circumvent the ban and keep servicing its route from Kabul to Frankfurt.

Safi reached profitability a few months ago and had been generating a bottom-line profit of about USD$1 million a month since September.

It plans to add flights from Kabul to Beijing in March, and Borchert said there was high demand for freight to be carried in the cargo hold of planes flying to the Chinese capital.

(Reuters)