Emirates 777 Flies All The Way To Kabul, Turns Around

Emirates 777 Flies All The Way To Kabul, Turns Around

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The terrible situation unfolding in Afghanistan is having quite some implications on aviation, with one flight today being particularly noteworthy.

Emirates’ 5hr30min+ flight to nowhere

Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport is served by several international airlines, including Emirates, Turkish Airlines, FlyDubai, Air India, and more. With Kabul now being taken over by the Taliban, airlines are canceling service to the airport, as you’d expect. While the United States military is in theory in control of the airport to allow for evacuations, it’s a complicated and fluid situation.

One flight in particular stands out — Emirates operates a daily flight between Dubai and Kabul — EK640 departs Dubai at 10:50AM and arrives in Kabul at 2:30PM, while EK641 departs Kabul at 4:20PM and arrives in Dubai at 6:45PM. The 1,048-mile flight is operated by a two-cabin Boeing 777-300ER.

EK640 was on approach to Kabul today when the decision was made for the flight to turn around, for the safety of passengers and crew. 2hr14min after departing Dubai, the plane began its descent from 37,000 feet. The plane then descended to 28,000 feet, where it entered an extended holding pattern, which lasted for about 30 minutes.

At that point the plane once again climbed, and continued its journey back to Dubai, where it landed 5hr34min after taking off from the same airport. You can see this all on a map below.

Ordinarily fuel is a concern when you’re approaching your destination and need to turn around, though my guess is that Emirates loads enough fuel for the roundtrip as a standard policy on this route. And in the case of a 777 that can carry enough fuel for a 15+ hour flight, it hardly poses any logistical issues to have some extra fuel.

On top of that, Emirates crews do same day turns in Kabul anyway, so this actually shortened their work day.

Even so, this is quite complicated, and presumably wasn’t an easy decision — while Emirates looked out for the safety of the crew, I imagine hundreds of people were left behind in Kabul who wanted to evacuate. That being said, if the airline couldn’t be assured that the plane could operate safely, it seems like the only reasonable decision for the airline to make.

Other flights were also impacted

Emirates wasn’t the only airline that made the decision to turn around enroute to Dubai today. FlyDubai also operates up to two daily flights to Kabul. The early morning flight operated as scheduled, while the late morning flight (FZ305/306) didn’t.

The Boeing 737-800 took off for Kabul, but turned around roughly an hour into the flight. The plane ended up landing back in Dubai about 2hr3min after departure.

Turkish Airlines operated its daily flight between Istanbul and Kabul (TK706/707) as scheduled — that’s because the flight left Istanbul just after midnight and landed in Kabul in the very early hours of the morning, and left Kabul by 8AM.

Bottom line

With the situation in Afghanistan rapidly deteriorating, international airlines are canceling their flights to Kabul for the safety of crews and passengers. The most eventful such flight today was Emirates’ flight from Dubai, which was on approach to Kabul when the decision was made to turn around, leading to a 5hr30min+ flight to nowhere.

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  1. JB

    PIA also flew into Kabul on Sunday according to Flightradar24 on PK6249/6250. They landed at 10:42am from Islamabad and left Kabul at 4:06pm.

    Flightradar24 also shows 3 flights scheduled from ISB to Kabul on Wednesday which aren't showing as canceled (leaving from 10:00-10:10am). One of them seems to be a regularly scheduled flight (PK249) on an A320 and the other two seem to be temporary evacuation flights (PK6249 and 6251) which are being operated...

    PIA also flew into Kabul on Sunday according to Flightradar24 on PK6249/6250. They landed at 10:42am from Islamabad and left Kabul at 4:06pm.

    Flightradar24 also shows 3 flights scheduled from ISB to Kabul on Wednesday which aren't showing as canceled (leaving from 10:00-10:10am). One of them seems to be a regularly scheduled flight (PK249) on an A320 and the other two seem to be temporary evacuation flights (PK6249 and 6251) which are being operated by a 777-200 and 777-300 respectively. I don't know if all three will operate, but the 777-200 flight does have a plane assigned to it.

  2. Jiseph

    Afghanistan was on lease to US for 20 years.
    US built all infrastructure.
    The Indian govt helped with roads and new Dams.
    Taliban took back control of the country, without any loans ...
    Pretty good move by Taliban...

  3. Craig

    This is not a political forum.

  4. Endre

    It may not be a popular opinion, but many Afghans appear to be content with their new government.

    1. Bob

      Check out the twitter account of Ariana Arghandewal, who works for TPG and either is or her family is from Afghanistan. She wrote this which probably sums up the sentiment of many Afghanis:

      "With the corrupt war criminals being out, I’m optimistic. I’m hearing the security situation is improving. When I visited a decade ago, I kept hearing “their ideas are backwards but the city was safe.” I know it contradicts the popular narrative, but this might be for the best."

    2. Eskimo

      @Bob

      You're right to disclose TPG. With this, at least I can assume the Taliban might have paid her it's advertorial (propaganda).

      @Endre
      It may not be a popular opinion, but many Americans appear to be content with any government, new, old, last one, next one, maybe expect the first one and the vampire hunter one.

  5. Emily

    My brother is a journalist for the BBC and was on board an AI flight from Delhi to Kabul yesterday. He called us upon landing. They apparently circled the Afghan air space for over two hours before being allowed to land. The aircraft landed and then boarded evacuees before departing. This was around the same time that the Emirates aircraft decided to turn back. He is of course staying back to report from ground zero.

  6. bruh

    AIC126 just entered the Afghan Airspace but just seconds later, it has turned back into the Turkmenistan's Airspace and is currently flying towards the Iranian airspace. This is interesting, considering that AIC102 overflew the Afghani airspace earlier this morning (local times)

    1. Gaurav

      Looks like they are diverting to SHJ

  7. RuFuS

    @David

    What Afghan government? Those that have the ability like the president are abandoning it like a sinking ship. Its a shame since we have now equipped and armed the Taliban with all the arms and vehicles we have left behind.

  8. Eskimo

    Why are people so excited about planes flying over Afgan airspace?

    There is no known information that the Taliban have access to advance surface to air missile capable of reaching cruising altitudes of commercial airliner. If they have it, it's because we or the Russians left it there like the Stinger missiles (which is for low altitude).

  9. Dick Bupkiss

    The Russians seem to be ignoring all this (surprise). I see Aeroflot 273 just flew right by Kabul enroute from BKK to SVO. Looks like they flew almost directly over Kabul -- maybe the pilots wanted to take a peek at their old stomping grounds? At 34,000 feet, probably fairly low risk.

    That's the only aircraft I see within Afghan airspace right now (though I see EVA 78 from AMS headed for a transit across...

    The Russians seem to be ignoring all this (surprise). I see Aeroflot 273 just flew right by Kabul enroute from BKK to SVO. Looks like they flew almost directly over Kabul -- maybe the pilots wanted to take a peek at their old stomping grounds? At 34,000 feet, probably fairly low risk.

    That's the only aircraft I see within Afghan airspace right now (though I see EVA 78 from AMS headed for a transit across the northern part of the country).

    I would have figured there would be a steady stream of outbound flights continuing all night...unless the Taliban have started shooting at the airport or departing planes, or outbound charter/airline flights have their transponders turned off. The plane will fly just fine without a working transponder. You just need to keep an eye out for other traffic, and you can work that out via radio.

    1. Dick Bupkiss

      Ah, news reports say Kabul Airport has now been closed to civilian traffic.

      I note that TK706 is still inbound from IST, about 90 minutes out. Maybe the airport will open after sunrise? Hmmm. Air India 161 from DEL to LHR looks like it will enter Afghan airspace soon and overfly.

      Rough sledding ahead, tough times for everyone there.

    2. Pat cattin

      There's some useful information looking for a home.
      Best (safest) way to get to Afghanistan is by cruise ship.
      All they need is a saltwater coast.

  10. Derek

    Do we need a vaccine or a negative test to visit Afghanistan, or is everybody welcome? -)

  11. Topaz

    Well, what can be said about 20 year occupation, where nowt has been achieved. Thousands have lost their lives, the so called super power and its cronies then run away because they pooped their pants.

    The Afghans know their terrain, you could never outplay them on the ground. The western idiots think they can enforce their will on others, yet miscalculated that these lands have never been conquered in history.

    So a trillion plus dollars...

    Well, what can be said about 20 year occupation, where nowt has been achieved. Thousands have lost their lives, the so called super power and its cronies then run away because they pooped their pants.

    The Afghans know their terrain, you could never outplay them on the ground. The western idiots think they can enforce their will on others, yet miscalculated that these lands have never been conquered in history.

    So a trillion plus dollars looted from the AMERICAN PUBLIC COFFERS, the people was told lies continuously just like on previous misadventures that OOOOSAAA has made a blunder of and now their military shizen are saying don't compare it to Saigon. Well you got that wrong again, fail, fail and fail is always a fail.

    David and Goliath, OOOOSAAA has had it's backside whoooped yet gain. This will be the next one for the unfortunate Americans to be taunted about after Vietnam.

    War is good business for the cronies sitting in Captial Hill.

  12. Luke

    Turkish flight# 706 is on the way to Kabul after taking off an hour ago from Istanbul.

    They should take all the parked A380s in the world and run evacuation flights if their still being brave enough to operate the service!

  13. Andy

    Right now the second of two UA flights (UA802/UA830) left the Afghanistan airspace on their way from India to the US. Apparently the NATO no-fly zone doesn’t apply to US aircraft. (I deliberately waited with this posting until the second one had left the Afghani airspace and entered Tajikistan).

    1. Creditcrunch

      It’s not been made clear if it’s a no fly zone or they are just restrictions for landing and taking off at airports within Afghanistan, but I think airlines are taking a common sense approach and avoiding airspace but as you said some are still over flying.

    2. Luke

      I dont think need to "deliberately " wait to give information that's publicly available online. Can see Air India flight#121 to FRA just now entered Afghan airspace, so for sure not being avoided by some.

  14. Michel

    Interesting, saw on the news video images of the airport with an EK777 taking off. These weren't stock images so maybe a chapter?

  15. Creditcrunch

    A bit more information coming out now about why aircraft were turned away after being in holding patterns, according to news reports the Taliban were engaged in gunfire with US and British Troops at Kabul airport after which NATO secured operations to military only.

    1. Pat cattin

      Makes sense. So much for our guessing.

  16. NYGuy24

    Not really acceptable. This wasn't some ultra-long flight. They changed their mind in a little over two hours. If the situation was that unstable they shouldn't have even let the plane take off.

    1. Pat cattin

      So you say. I admit they did not consult with me in advance.

  17. derek

    Just last month, President Biden said Afghanistan won't fall. Then intelligence reports shortened the expected date of the fall of the Afghan government from 6 months to 90 days. In fact, the government fell in about a week.

    The Wall Street Journal attributes the fall to the US military not training the Afghans to fight other than the US method. The US method requires air support and air transport, not the low tech methods used...

    Just last month, President Biden said Afghanistan won't fall. Then intelligence reports shortened the expected date of the fall of the Afghan government from 6 months to 90 days. In fact, the government fell in about a week.

    The Wall Street Journal attributes the fall to the US military not training the Afghans to fight other than the US method. The US method requires air support and air transport, not the low tech methods used in World War II and earlier. The Afghan military was accustomed to fighting the way it was done 75 years ago. When the US left, the Afghan military could not sustain the US method of fighting without air support, which they don't have. That is why Afghanistan fell. Inadequate US training.

    1. Never In Doubt

      It was f**ked up before the US (and the Soviets, and the British) got there, it’ll be f**ked up after the US leaves.

      The hubris was thinking “This time will be different”.

  18. Ray

    I saw this. I reported to my friend that FR24 detected 4 aircraft in the immediate vicinity of Kabul Airport. An Air India A320-200ceo; this Emirates 777-300ER; 2 Soviet helicopters with U.S. registry (N243XX & N541VS). IIRC, Afghan airspace was otherwise clear.

    I thought the Emirates 777 was meant to evacuate diplomatic personnel bound for Europe. I did notice its prolonged holding pattern, going round and round. Man, I feel for the people on the...

    I saw this. I reported to my friend that FR24 detected 4 aircraft in the immediate vicinity of Kabul Airport. An Air India A320-200ceo; this Emirates 777-300ER; 2 Soviet helicopters with U.S. registry (N243XX & N541VS). IIRC, Afghan airspace was otherwise clear.

    I thought the Emirates 777 was meant to evacuate diplomatic personnel bound for Europe. I did notice its prolonged holding pattern, going round and round. Man, I feel for the people on the ground desperately waiting to be evacuated… hope they get their chance.

    1. Ray

      Shortly after I left this comment, I checked on Kabul's airspace again on FR24. Some interesting traffic for sure. I'll list them below:
      1. HiFly A330 from London-Heathrow to an undetermined destination;
      2. HiFly A340-300 from Lisbon to an undetermined/destination;
      3. A U.S. Navy Lockheed C-130J Hercules, whose interesting callsign I won't disclose;
      4. A Royal Air Force C-17A Globemaster III which took off from the RAF in Cyprus, then turned...

      Shortly after I left this comment, I checked on Kabul's airspace again on FR24. Some interesting traffic for sure. I'll list them below:
      1. HiFly A330 from London-Heathrow to an undetermined destination;
      2. HiFly A340-300 from Lisbon to an undetermined/destination;
      3. A U.S. Navy Lockheed C-130J Hercules, whose interesting callsign I won't disclose;
      4. A Royal Air Force C-17A Globemaster III which took off from the RAF in Cyprus, then turned south towards Egypt before going eastwards over KSA, then Oman, then northwards to Pakistan... then interestingly disappeared;
      5. A USAF K-135R Stratotanker which took off from Qatar, also w/ an interesting callsign I won't disclose.

      Seriously, go turn on FR24 and look for interesting traffic in/around Afghanistan (but also hope for the best for the people involved).

    2. Never In Doubt

      Great suggestion.

      C-17 just landed in Kabul!

      Several Turkish Air flights over the county, and a couple United flights from India as well.

  19. R B

    I can't imagine what Afghanistan has been going through for the past 40 years...It feels like the country has been at war for 4 decades

  20. Papa Flyer66

    @Luke
    Not all airlines are avoiding Afghan airspace. The preceding posts only mention BA avoiding that airspace and Kabul airport being closed.
    The fact that Thai flew across Afghanistan does not impact the accuracy of the post

  21. Joseph R.

    Ben, can you please cool it with the “flight to nowhere” lingo? All flights go somewhere, even if it’s just circling the airport while doing touch-and-go.

    1. ChrisC

      He did one a few weeks ago '18 hour flight' when that was aboluutly not the case.

      I used to like Ben because of his measured headlines and articles but in the past year there have been too many 'OMG' or ''WOW' headlines as thought he were a teen on insta.

    2. Pat cattin

      Or trolling for clicks.

    3. Pat cattin

      Yeah. Sounds a little UFOey.

  22. Creditcrunch

    NATO have just announced all commercial air movements are suspended with only military aviation allowed, it’s not clear if the airspace is being shut down but BA have ordered its pilots not to fly over Afghanistan.

    1. Luke

      Wheres your source on that? I can see through flightaware theres a few planes over Afghan airspace right now, such as this Thai airways flight from Frankfurt to Bangkok:

      https://flightaware.com/live/flight/THA921

    2. Creditcrunch

      All commercial flights from Kabul airport suspended - NATO official

      https://news.sky.com/story/afghanistan-taliban-enters-outskirts-of-kabul-as-militants-say-they-dont-plan-to-take-capital-by-force-12382060

    3. Creditcrunch

      16:35 post

      BA planes told to avoid Afghan airspace

      British Airways has ordered its pilots to avoid Afghan airspace because of the growing turmoil in the country, Sky News can confirm.

    4. Justin

      Well … Thailand is not a NATO country, and it’s also very possible that it took off from FRA before the news broke and the route was already planned. It may not have enough fuel for a significant diversion (keeping in mind that aircraft probably still avoid contested Ukrainian/Russian airspace) route. In any case, I’m certain that NATO aircraft are not going to shoot a wide body airliner out of the sky … it’s not...

      Well … Thailand is not a NATO country, and it’s also very possible that it took off from FRA before the news broke and the route was already planned. It may not have enough fuel for a significant diversion (keeping in mind that aircraft probably still avoid contested Ukrainian/Russian airspace) route. In any case, I’m certain that NATO aircraft are not going to shoot a wide body airliner out of the sky … it’s not as if that could ever be confused for a Taliban aircraft…

    5. Luke

      Wheres your source on that, can see through flightaware theres still several flights in Afghan airspace now such as Thai airways flight #921 from Frankfurt to Bangkok

  23. Luke

    Crazy how the flights turned around and no idea if the next scheduled flights to Kabul for airlines like Turkish & Air India will proceed now. The EK flight could have easily made an emergency landing in Pakistan if it was anywhere close to not having enough fuel.

  24. Jkjkjk

    Finally standing up for their own country. Good for them. A better day Afghanistan is coming.
    Most people here (Americans) thought that the afghan war started 20 years ago! WRONG!
    The taliban is a result of cold war created by yours truly.
    People in the US really need some history lessons where the US did not play a hero.

    1. Gomez_Z

      Yup I’m sure all the newly enslaved women see this as a “better day for Afghanistan” imagine not being allowed to go out in public or go to school which women in Afghanistan are no longer allowed now.

    2. Papa Flyer 66

      This is an aviation forum not a political one. Please respect that.

    3. Never In Doubt

      @Papa Flyer 66,

      I see you're new to the internet.

      Welcome!

    4. Pat cattin

      Sorry, you are right. However today's topic could not be more political. You're going to have to hold your nose for a day or two.

      On that topic sounds like there was a lot of traffic building in Afghanistan. That could demonstrate an improving economic climate. Damn shame.

    5. Pat cattin

      Huh ? You either need remedial English or buy a calendar:

  25. Tim Howard

    I guess it be a bad weekend to take the family for a weekend in Kabul to see the sights and tour the country side.

  26. John T

    If anyone needs a refresher on what the situation is there right now and why, The New Yorker published an excellent piece this weekend called "Not Our Tragedy".

    It explains that after spending 20 years and trillions of dollars trying to fix the situation, most Americans no longer care what happens to Afghanistan and as such Biden will not be getting involved.

    1. Never In Doubt

      Once we missed getting Bin Laden in Afghanistan, we should have left immediately.

      And one correction, most Americans *never* cared what happened.

    2. Pat cattin

      Huh ? I missed that moment. When was it exactly ? Leaving is not the debate, any timing before today is not the debate. The debate is technique, timing, communication and inclusiveness with our allies and coordination with those left with the responsibility. Cut and run and a weekend off is not leadership. It's insanity.

    3. Pat cattin

      It’s a good thing our President has an East Coast society magazine to communicate detailed secret international policy for him. Lord knows he can't do it.

  27. Eskimo

    So USA invade and occupy Afghanistan for 20 years using Taliban and peacekeeping as an excuse.
    Taliban still survives and took Afghanistan back in 2 weeks!!
    Haven't Vietnam teach us anything?

    I feel bad for the people trying to get out on that flight. Imagine a passenger tracking that plane all the way to Kabul and left without landing.
    I feel sorry for our brothers and sisters who fought a politicians war...

    So USA invade and occupy Afghanistan for 20 years using Taliban and peacekeeping as an excuse.
    Taliban still survives and took Afghanistan back in 2 weeks!!
    Haven't Vietnam teach us anything?

    I feel bad for the people trying to get out on that flight. Imagine a passenger tracking that plane all the way to Kabul and left without landing.
    I feel sorry for our brothers and sisters who fought a politicians war to defend someone else's border for nothing.
    Well I guess from what we learn from the Olympics, our military leaders probably have mental health issues and have to withdraw without finishing the job. Is this America's new attitude?

    1. Never In Doubt

      Bad policy. Finally ended.

      The concept of the “sunk cost fallacy” is lost on most people, not just the US government.

    2. Pat cattin

      America ? Yes. Biden No.

  28. Steve

    Major credit to the airlines for saying enough is enough. It’s way too dangerous to fly over that country and to land there when the Taliban is now in full control of the entire country. It’s on Biden for evacuating everyone safely he said it was impossible for the capital to fall just last month.

    1. David

      What else is Biden supposed to say/do? Not leave Afghanistan and continue to engage in a costly war that has no end in sight? Or should he say "The Afghan government is going to get overrun soon, everyone panic and run for the nearest exit"?

    2. Pat cattin

      Really ? That’s it ? The argument for American withdrawal included a phased orderly transition from US power to Afgan power and control. Perhaps with some women with everything on the line to give the men a backbone. Cut and run will be an international stain the world will associate with Biden. Democrats were so busy thinking Trump was going to start a war with everyone or give away the store to countries that “had...

      Really ? That’s it ? The argument for American withdrawal included a phased orderly transition from US power to Afgan power and control. Perhaps with some women with everything on the line to give the men a backbone. Cut and run will be an international stain the world will associate with Biden. Democrats were so busy thinking Trump was going to start a war with everyone or give away the store to countries that “had the goods on him” they never saw his genius of playing both bad cop and good cop. The fact that Trump would not show his hand to anyone (perhaps Mike Pompeo) left zero brained lefties to think ; he’s all over the place, he doesn’t know what he is doing. He knew America always holds four aces. As President it was his duty to play them wisely. He was magnificent. The fact that lefties just don’t get it doesn’t mean Trump didn’t have it.

    3. David

      @Pat cattin
      Do you even know what the US army was doing in Afghanistan for years? They’ve been training the Afghan army so that they can stand on their own. That’s the orderly transition. The US can’t occupy Afghanistan and fight their war for them forever, especially when the Afghans don’t want to fight at all. The Talibans are willing to die for their cause, the Afghanistan government is being paid to fight for...

      @Pat cattin
      Do you even know what the US army was doing in Afghanistan for years? They’ve been training the Afghan army so that they can stand on their own. That’s the orderly transition. The US can’t occupy Afghanistan and fight their war for them forever, especially when the Afghans don’t want to fight at all. The Talibans are willing to die for their cause, the Afghanistan government is being paid to fight for a cause they don’t believe in. How much longer should Biden keep the army there, and would another few months, or even a few MORE years make any difference?

    4. Giovanna

      Hang on... who said "I hope Biden doesn't stay in Afghanistan until September 2021"?? Wasn't that your magnificent guy?? And who decided to sign a treaty that the Talibans of course didn't respect? Oh.. right... your magnificent guy!!

    5. GLCTraveler

      I'm not sure Biden felt that himself, but he had to present the "No Overrun" message that was given to him, by his less then realistic & foolish advisors!!

      The cold hard fact is, 1 more month or 10 more years wouldn't have make a difference in the outcome.... This is feeling expressed in the current Washington DC area pole, where 92% believe troop withdrawal was the right thing to do. Sorry "Bleeding-Heart Liberals"!!

Featured Comments Load all 65 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

David

What else is Biden supposed to say/do? Not leave Afghanistan and continue to engage in a costly war that has no end in sight? Or should he say "The Afghan government is going to get overrun soon, everyone panic and run for the nearest exit"?

Gomez_Z

Yup I’m sure all the newly enslaved women see this as a “better day for Afghanistan” imagine not being allowed to go out in public or go to school which women in Afghanistan are no longer allowed now.

Eskimo

So USA invade and occupy Afghanistan for 20 years using Taliban and peacekeeping as an excuse. Taliban still survives and took Afghanistan back in 2 weeks!! Haven't Vietnam teach us anything? I feel bad for the people trying to get out on that flight. Imagine a passenger tracking that plane all the way to Kabul and left without landing. I feel sorry for our brothers and sisters who fought a politicians war to defend someone else's border for nothing. Well I guess from what we learn from the Olympics, our military leaders probably have mental health issues and have to withdraw without finishing the job. Is this America's new attitude?

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