Stansted hijack airline applies to restart flights from Kabul

Evening Standard

It is better known for disasters and hijacking than in-flight service, but one of the world’s most notorious airlines could be flying to London by next spring.

Afghanistan’s national airline Ariana is seeking permission to fly to Europe for the first time since it was banned three years ago for safety breaches.

It believes there is the potential for flights to Heathrow because of the number of diplomats, aid workers and private security contractors wanting to get to Kabul and the 40,000 Afghans estimated to be living in Britain.

The last Ariana flight to reach Britain was a hijacked Boeing 727 forced by gunmen to land at Stansted in 2000 as they sought to get into Britain, claiming to be fleeing the Taliban.

They surrendered after a 70-hour siege. The hostages were released and the hijackers sent to prison. One recently surfaced as a cleaner at Heathrow. To rebuild its reputation Ariana has invested £15million in two new planes, training and technical support that it hopes will satisfy a panel of experts in November.

The airline is applying to the European Aviation Safety Agency for the right to fly into Europe.

Captain Moin Khan Wardak, Ariana’s president and chief executive and also the pilot on the last flight from Heathrow to Kabul, said: “My first aim is safety.”

The link with London was severed in the early Nineties as Afghanistan descended into civil war. A series of fatal crashes in 1997 and 1998, all down to poor maintenance, dealt the airline’s reputation a lethal blow.

Passengers nicknamed it “Scariana”. American bombs in 2001 destroyed much of its fleet at Kabul airport. In 2006 European air watchdogs banned it, meaning its planes cannot enter the EU.

But in June, Ariana took delivery of two Airbus 310/300 aircraft from Turkish Airlines, which is also training the crew to international standards. Its fleet of ailing Antonov aircraft is used on domestic routes. The company already operates an indirect flight from Kabul to Frankfurt using a stop-over in Istanbul and a plane registered in Turkey. With a sizeable Afghan population in London, flights between the capitals made good business sense, Capt Wardak said.

One of the main reasons Ariana is blacklisted is because security at Kabul international airport was considered inadequate, but now British security firm Global has taken over responsibility.

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