Afghanistan and India are to resume regular flights between the two countries following Ariana Afghan Airlines' return to international flying after more than two years.

Ariana's first international flight touched down in the Indian capital New Delhi on 24 January and two days later the countries signed a memorandum of understanding.

India's government says it was told by Afghan officials that regular flights between New Delhi and the Afghan capital Kabul would "start shortly". The memorandum allows airlines from each side to carry up to 1,600 passengers per week, although there are no plans for Air India or Indian Airlines to serve Afghanistan yet.

Ariana's first international service since 1999 followed the lifting of sanctions by the UN. The first flight from Kabul was with its sole Boeing 727-200, carrying just 12 passengers and 11 crew members.

Afghanistan's minister for civil aviation Abdul Rahman said upon arrival in New Delhi that Ariana "decided to fly the first flight to New Delhi after the UN sanctions were lifted as India is a friendly country".

The UN Security Council voted to lift sanctions on Ariana in mid-January. The carrier had been barred from flying into UN member states since October 1999 when sanctions were imposed after the USA indicted Osama bin Laden for his alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa.

In December Ariana started operating limited domestic services again as the US-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan launched after the September terrorist attacks in the USA began to be wound down. Commercial operations had been halted since mid-September.

The carrier lost most of its aircraft in the air strikes and is reported to have just two remaining - one Antonov An-24 and the 727.

Source: Flight International