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Cablegate: Assistance for Afghanistan's Provincial Airports

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBUL #0705/01 0590630
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 280630Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5899
RHMCSUU/FAA NATIONAL HQ WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/TSA HQ WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS KABUL 000705

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AID, EEB/TRA, S/SRAP, SCA/FO, SCA/A

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: EAIR EAID PGOV PREL AF
SUBJECT: Assistance for Afghanistan's Provincial Airports

1. (U) Summary: Antiquated and overcrowded, Afghanistan's provincial
airports are struggling to handle existing passenger traffic and
unable to handle increasing demand for international and domestic
flights. Embassy Kabul is upgrading three provincial runways in
cooperation with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Afghan
Ministry of Finance. The FAA is seeking an additional $448 million
in USAID funding to improve four domestic airports and modernize the
air traffic system to better connect provincial and international
facilities. With just two airports suitable for international
flights and crowding at the country's main airport in Kabul,
Afghanistan needs increased donor support to enhance its air
terminal infrastructure. We will continue to consult with other
donors on this issue and believe airports, along with other key
infrastructure projects such as the East West Highway, could be a
worthwhile agenda item for Washington's discussions with other donor
capitals. End Summary.

SOME UPGRADES ALREADY UNDERWAY...
---------------------------------

2. (U) Most domestic air traffic in Afghanistan is private or
government/military, and the majority of airports and air fields are
adjacent to or part of coalition military facilities. However, the
domestic civil market is growing, with two privately-owned
commercial carriers, Pamir and KamAir, and government-owned Ariana,
plying domestic routes with both turboprop and jet aircraft. Road
conditions have dramatically improved since 2001 with billions of
dollars in donor funding, but security along roads prevents many
Afghans from driving long distances, making air travel an attractive
and affordable option.

3. (U) ADB allocated $30 million for a four-year improvement project
at four airports, Chaghcharan, Qalai-Naw, Faizabad and Maimana,
focused on non-runway projects. The project also includes capacity
building at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (MOTCA).
In addition to ADB's renovations, USAID committed $6 million to
concurrently upgrade runways at three of the four airports, exluding
Qalai-Naw (Faizabad currently has a corrugated iron runway). The
runway upgrades will allow C-130 and comparable aircraft to land,
creating more opportunities for civil and military flights. USAID's
funding covers half the cost of the upgrades and was provided on the
condition the Afghan Government would match it. Minister of Finance
Zakhilwal has said the Government would match the funding.

...WHILE MORE NEED FUNDING
--------------------------

4. (U) The country's largest provincial airports - Herat,
Mazar-i-Sharif, Kunduz, Jalalabad and Kandahar - were built with
U.S. assistance in 1956. While adequate for their time and fairly
well-maintained, passenger traffic has outstripped the facilities.
Herat airport was designed for 50 to 60 passengers per day, but now
handles 600 to 700. Three hundred commercial passengers per day
arrive and depart at Kandahar, whose combined military/civilian
single runway is one of the busiest in the world.

5. (U) Herat has a single runway and no taxiway. A NATO-funded
expansion of the existing runway is underway. While MOTCA officials
said they would like a new runway constructed, a Drug Enforcement
Administration compound has been built nearby, possibly blocking its
construction. Herat likely has passenger numbers to justify direct
flights to Dubai. However, the runway is not long enough to
accommodate aircraft capable of the trip, and Dubai only accepts
Afghan flights from airports with contracted screeners employed by
Global, a UK firm. At present, Global, whose contract is funded by
the government of the United Arab Emirates, only operates in Kabul
and Kandahar.

6. (U) During a visit to Herat and Kandahar airports in early
February, FAA Acting Deputy Administrator David Grizzle evaluated
staff capacity at the existing airports. Beyond general cleaning,
very little preventative maintenance takes place at either facility.
Kandahar has an unfixed hole in its roof, and when a screening
machine at Herat broke, airport staff relied on the adjacent Italian
military facility to fix it. Specialized staff, such as
firefighters, must be trained in Kabul. Grizzle emphasized that any
renovation project at either airport should focus on capacity
building and sustainable infrastructure that airport staff could
maintain. The FAA has requested USAID funding to renovate
facilities and train airport staff at Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad and
Kabul airports. USAID is presently seeking additional
infrastructure funds for ongoing projects, including urban
infrastructure, natural gas-fueled power plants and multi-purpose
dams, and will carefully consider this request along with other
competing priorities.

7. (U) Comment: Civil aviation is one of Afghanistan's healthier
industries, and as incomes continue to increase, more Afghans will
fly domestically and internationally. Kabul International Airport
(KIA), the country's largest, is nearing its structural air traffic
limits unless it is significantly expanded. Japan funded a new
international terminal at KIA but has no immediate plans for further
aviation support. Germany spent $12 million to repair and lengthen
the runway at Mazar-i-Sharif to enhance logistical support for its
troops. Civil operations at provincial airports attract fewer
donors. Afghanistan's provincial airports need upgrading to help
expand the nascent domestic and international markets. End
comment.

EIKENBERRY

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