Several solutions to the European Union's blanket ban on Afghan carriers are being investigated by Afghan airline Safi Airways in order to resume its suspended Frankfurt-Kabul service.

Safi is attempting to circumnavigate the ban, imposed due to the lack of a proper regulator to oversee civil aviation in the country, through finding an alternative AOC, according to chief operating officer Michael McTighe.

He described the ban as "the most serious risk to the business". McTighe said that Safi was at the beginning of the five step process need to acquire a Gulf AOC and was optimistic to have achieved this by the end of 2011. "We are submitting our data, but it's not something we can rush, we can't dictate a timescale," he said.

Anticipating that Safi will be able to reinstate the Frankfurt to Kabul route by Spring 2012, McTighe explained that if there was a delay in the AOC process the airline was looking at contingency options such as wet-leasing an Airbus A330.

"We've committed to going back to Frankfurt next year, we'll probably start off with three flights a week, building up to a peak of five a week," he said.

However, McTighe said that for the time being the airline would not seek to reinstate any domestic routes due to the increased costs of aviation fuel and insurance in the country. He added that with most Afghan airports being daylight-only operations "you're quite restricted with your flying programmes".

Stressing that Safi would only fly profitable routes, he pointed out that if a "competitor was flying a 30-year-old DC-9 that's completely written down, and we're putting in a modern A320, then we can't compete if there's a savage price war".

Since 16 June, Safi has been operating services four times a week between Kabul and Delhi and although McTighe said it was a very price sensitive market, Safi had an advantage in being the only IATA carrier flying the route aside from Air India. The flights had a 60-70% load factor in the first month, he said.

He said the airline would bring in three more Airbus A320s in the next year, to add to its existing A320-200 and two Boeing 737-300s.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news