Afghanistan spreads its wings

14 May 2009

Afghanistan spreads its wings

KABUL - For more than forty years, Enayatullah Siddiqi has monitored the ballet of the planes from behind the windows of the control tower at Kabul airport.

For him, the history of his country is written on the milestones of civil aviation.

“In the 1960’s we saw a great development of civil aviation in Afghanistan. But after 1970 things became more difficult,” said Mr Siddiqi, the operational vice president at Kabul airport.

Almost three decades of war devastated Afghanistan and the progress of aviation was also hampered.

But the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) started to support the Government of Afghanistan to re-build this dying sector and ensure the country joined the international civil aviation community.

Yet the goals have been high: enhance global civil aviation safety and security; develop the efficiency of aviation operations and maintain their continuity; ensure the transition from international military control to civilian control at Kabul airport.

With difficultly the project started in October 2007 with huge challenges, not least the lack of resources and the difficulties in coordinating the efforts between the Government and international organizations.

“The first several months I felt that the wall was too high, that we would never get over it. But it was not true. If you take every day one at a time and you make some improvements, those become cumulative. A week becomes a month, a month becomes a year, you look back, you see what you have accomplished and you’re proud,” said Steve Irwin, the project manager.

Civil aviation can play a major role in the development of a country. The only alternative to road transportation is air, allowing people to move back and forth safely, bringing commerce, jobs, expertise and development supplies, and exporting Afghan culture and national products.

This week was a very important landmark for civil aviation in Afghanistan was met. Safi Airways, a private aviation company in Afghanistan, met international civil aviation standards, opening the way for other local companies to be trustable members of the international air community.

“This is a success story. Now that Safi meets international standards commerce will be lifted for the benefit of everyone. It is a great development. All the success of today belongs to Safi and the Afghan people. They made it happen,” said Mr Irwin.

And the story is ongoing. ICAO expects that by the middle of 2010 the airport will be controlled by the civilian authorities of Afghanistan rather than NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. The plan is to rollout civilian control across the other airports in Afghanistan.

“Afghans are capable of doing everything anybody does. One day we might have an Afghan astronaut if that is the end game for Afghan aviation. But, in the short term, we will see the benefits of what happened today with Safi, for example, the economic benefits linked to this achievement. I hope that this success will be an inspiration for the other companies in order to reach the international standards,” added Mr Irwin.

Back in the control room with a discreet smile on his face, Mr Siddiqi enjoys this success as another milestone for the progress of civil aviation in Afghanistan.

By Alexandre Brecher-Dolivet, UNAMA

Website: International Civil Aviation Organization