NICHOLAS IONIDES / SINGAPORE
Ariana Afghan Airlines is preparing to take delivery of the first of three Airbus A300B4s being donated by India to help the embattled carrier rebuild its operation.
India's government said in May it would donate the three A300B4-200s operated by Air India to Ariana to help it expand. "We plan to take all three A300s from India so we can add more routes," says the airline's president Jahid Azimi, who expects the first aircraft soon.
The carrier was left with one working Boeing 727-200Adv and one Antonov An-24 after the US-led air strikes on Afghanistan following the 11 September terrorist attacks. Its 727 fleet has doubled with the acquisition of an ex-American Airlines 727-200Adv in May, but the An-24 is now out of service as it requires overhaul work, Azimi says.
Ariana has been working to rebuild its shattered operation since December, when limited domestic flights were resumed. International services were re-started in January after UN sanctions were lifted.
The carrier recently added services to Tehran in Iran. It has also launched services to Amritsar and New Delhi in India, Islamabad in Pakistan, and Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Domestic services link Kabul with Herat.
Azimi, a pilot and 15-year Ariana veteran who took over as president four months ago, says the first of the three A300s will fly to Europe, with services to Frankfurt in Germany via Istanbul in Turkey. The launch is planned for the first week of August, depending on the delivery of the first A300.
Azimi says the A300s will initially be crewed by Air India pilots "until our crews get training".
Azimi also claims business has been growing steadily in recent months and is positive about the airline's future.