KABUL, Afghanistan (Sept. 12, 2015) – In Afghanistan, there is an added
element to managing multiple layers of airspace that many of the world’s
busiest aerial infrastructures do not have, and that is the element of
As the country contends with its increased commercial inbound, outbound
and overflight air traffic, it must also consider military aviation
requirements here in support of the Afghanistan security forces.
With that as an ever-present consideration here, the middle of August
marked a significant achievement for the Afghanistan Civil Aviation
Authority and Resolute Support as procedures to enhancing the country’s
airspace management were finalized.
The ACAA signed a letter of arrangement August 18 that documents
procedures to ensure safe separation of military and civilian air
traffic. Two days later, the Combined Forces Air Component Commander
signed off on the document, which sealed the agreement with the Resolute
“The effort was complex,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott D. West,
Resolute Support director for the Air Component Coordination Element.
“Military and civil airspace users had to be consulted as we worked to
improve the existing airspace construct and develop associated
The importance of developing deconfliction procedures is to ensure a
required layer of safety for all aircraft in a particular airspace. The
airspace above Afghanistan is busy with both commercial aircraft and
military aircraft supporting Afghan national security objectives.
West explained that among the many stakeholder contributions, legal
opinions were also collected and put toward the adjustment of the
procedures guiding daily civil-military aviation operations in
Afghanistan. He added that the arrangements are consistent with the
Bi-lateral Security Agreement between the U.S. and the Government of the
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Status of Forces Agreement
between NATO and GIRoA.
"After successfully awarding the Afghanistan's Airspace Operations
Control Project and signing the arrangement for the procedures of
integrating the Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces' air operations within
Afghanistan's airspace, the international airline community can safely
fly over Afghanistan's territory," said Mahmood Shah Habibi, ACAA deputy
director general, deputy minister.
Contributing stakeholders to the effort have essentially simplified
Afghanistan’s airspace transitioning it to an International Civil
Aviation Organization recognized construct assisting in the safe transit
of aircraft through Afghanistan airspace. For the international
aviation community, overflights of countries are important to airlines
intent of saving fuel costs and shorter flight time by going over Afghan
airspace as opposed to around the country. Adopting existing procedures
from the ICAO to Afghan airspace is important to safely operate
commercial airlines and cargo operations through and to Afghanistan.
Thus, deconfliction underlies Afghan ownership of airspace management in
the coming years, and it is yet another illustration of the country’s
momentum toward streamlining and standardizing its entire aviation
industry according to international aviation criterion.
“The ability to deconflict military and civil traffic is central to
Afghanistan’s effort to take functional control of its airspace,”
explained West. “The procedures comport with International Civil
Aviation Organizational standards, and the improved airspace construct
As the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan prepares to
take control of their airspace by mid-September, deconfliction has taken
on increased notability; but coordination between the ACAA and Resolute
Support for such has actually been in the works for quite some time,
years in fact.
Before last month’s agreement, a complex collection of airspace control
measures were used to deconflict civil and military air traffic,
according to U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jared Asman, a senior advisor with the
Civil Aviation Transition Branch of NATO Air Command – Afghanistan.
The RS advising team at NAC-A has worked extensively with the ACAA to
help coordinate the development of a streamlined procedural arrangement.
Certainly the practical implications of the arrangement are clear.
Military operations in support of the Afghan National Defense Security
Forces will continue without interference of Afghanistan’s civilian
aviation operations and overflight airspace management, which has a
revenue potential worthy of note.
“Afghanistan will continue to collect overflight revenue from commercial
flights into and over Afghanistan’s airspace,” said West. “The revenue
is sufficient for GIRoA to pay for future airspace control contracts
while it develops indigenous, civil-servant capacity to perform air
traffic control duties.”
The multifaceted nature of the arrangement demanded an all-inclusive
approach to decipher layers of airspace use to minimize risk and
optimize operational flow. Asman noted that all users – to include
pilots, air traffic controllers, battlespace managers, etc. – poured
into the effort to refine the concurrent use of Afghan airspace by
military and civilian operators.
Asman stressed that transitioning airspace back to GIRoA is a
significant milestone because it demonstrates GIRoA sovereignty and
independence. The momentum established through ACAA and Resolute Support
collaboration aligns Afghanistan’s aviation administration with ICAO
international standards and recommended practices that will furthermore
direct the capacity development necessary to manage international
airspace connecting Europe and Asia, a substantial regional economic
consideration for a landlocked Afghanistan.
A next major milestone for the ACAA is the training of fully qualified
air traffic controllers, another complex and challenging aspect of
Afghanistan’s airspace administration. Plans are underway for the
implementation of an Afghan air traffic controller training program.
“The ACAA will have to continue to develop its indigenous capability,
and if the ACAA can continue on this trajectory it will demonstrate the
kind of independence that will allow a self-sustaining commercial
aviation industry,” Asman said.