American Airlines Gets Permission For Lower Altitude Flying Over Kabul

American Airlines launched service between New York JFK and Delhi in November 2021. They ran into diplomatic roadblocks getting permission to fly over Russia, leading to more circuitous routings which meant that the flight would occasionally have to divert and crew would time out.

Then, once Russia invaded Ukraine, U.S. airlines weren’t permitted to overfly Russia at all. That’s made service to India tougher for United, too.

American would like to overfly Kabul, Afghanistan instead however there have been limits doing so.

  • The FAA wouldn’t allow it below 32,000 feet through the Kabul Flight InformatioN Region for safety reasons. Terrorists might try to shoot down planes overhead.

  • American’s Boeing 777-300ER can’t fly over 32,000 feet in the region under certain meteorological conditions.

This made a Kabul routing problematic, lengthening the Delhi trip further. Now American has asked for and received an exemption that allows them to operate below 32,000 feet – instead flying through the area at 30,000 feet. This still isn’t as efficient as flying over the Urals but will shorten the trip for American.

There is theoretical risk, according to the FAA, because:

  • “[V]iolent extremists and militants have access to weapons posing risks up to 25,000 feet” and
  • “[T]here is high terrain in the vicinity of jet routes P500-G500” which could place those weapons within range.

However this has never happened even when the U.S. was operating inside the country and it hasn’t happened since they left two years ago. On the other hand, American flights 292 and 293 operate on a published schedule and can be tracked.


  • The NOTAM for the area (G0306/23) permits overflight at 30,000 feet

  • The distance between waypoints FIRUZ and MOTMO where this exemption occurs is just 12 nautical miles and takes just 95 seconds to cross

  • So the FAA considers an exemption to the 32,000 foot limit, to fly at 30,000 feet, not to have an adverse effect on safety.

This is all probably fine? But I think I’d still be holding my breath for about 95 seconds?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hold your breath all you want to. Remember Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine at FL330. Pucker up time.

  2. Let me shed some light on this topic as I was on canceled AA293 on 9/18 due to this issue:
    – The Captain and ground staff provided the explanation that the FAA had ‘just’ raised the flight floor from 30K to 32K over Afghanistan.
    – The change happened late in flight planning and the aircraft to that point always flew at 30K due to overall weight (fuel, pax & cargo). There was no alternative to offload sufficient weigh that night – so the flight canceled.
    – 26 hours later they ran an ‘extra section’ AA9601 on 9/20 to JFK(original canceled equipment). I spoke to the captain who said the flight plan was now fine as their weight was down
    -I mentioned that I was seeing on Twitter (JONNYC post) that Azerbaijan airspace appeared to be closed as LH was turning planes back to Germany due to low fuel for alternative routing. They hadn’t heard that – but later told me AA Dispatch informed them of the same about 10 minutes later. It appeared from the actual flight plan they re-routed via Georgia to get going
    -My view of the flight data from 9601 on 9/20 (flight I was on) is that the plane left Lahore at about 30K and did reach 32K in Afghanistan during it’s overflight

    General observations.

    AA strikes me as really running a ‘seat of it’s pants’ operation out of Delhi and the flight is terribly challenged with range given the somewhat crazy routings it must do to safely traverse the area. With only 3 AA employees on the ground – they are ill prepared to deal with issues when things go south – and they seem to with some frequency on this flight.

    Not sure the give is worth the get in terms of revenue vs. unplanned expenses with cancellations and equipment/crewing challenges. The fuel used on this flight vs. the Air India flight must be incredibly different given they route via Russia and pull into JFK with over an hour shorter flight time.

    I see the premise of the article is AA can now fly at 30K via Kabul…that wasn’t the case last week – but without that dispensation AA are clearly load/weight challenged.

  3. This all tells me AA is loath to drop the JFK-DEL-JFK route, even with the operational issues and inefficiencies and the occasional diversions in winter. This also tells me AA is struggling with whether to keep it or drop the route.

  4. @jns Thanks for reminding us about MH17. The radio silence about MH17 is almost similar to the silence about Nordstream. Russian investigation revealed that MH17 was brought down by an older version of SAM that is only operated by Ukrainian forces. Clearly more lies from Putin. But wondering why the cnn/AP never mention either MH17 or nordstream anymore.

  5. Cant imagine what happens if this flight needs to make an emergency landing in this area. Where would most Indian citizens feel more at ease in landing to between Kabul, Afghanistan vs Peshawar, Pakistan!

    Given the locals sense of hospitality throughout this part of the world would expect treatment like how the Saudi’s treated passengers from an Israel bound flight’s recent emergency landing.

  6. Please stop saying (and using GCmap to plot) Kabul. This story has nothing to do with the capital city Kabul. “Kabul FIR” is the entire country of Afghanistan, and this story is about the very narrow panhandle in the easternmost part of Afghanistan. Nobody’s flying anywhere else except this G500/P500 corridor that’s 12 nautical miles wide/long, i.e. less than 2 minutes of flying–probably not involving Afghan ATC.

  7. Seems one of the conditions of the exemption was overlooked:

    Prior to operating under this exemption, the operator must complete and submit to
    the FAA Flight Standards Service, Air Transportation Division, the attached
    document, captioned “Waiver of Claims and Agreement to Indemnify and Hold
    Harmless the United States of America,” containing the operator’s agreement to
    release the U.S. Government from any and all damages, claims and liabilities, as
    well as its agreement to indemnify the U.S. Government with respect to any and
    all third party damages, claims, and liabilities relating to any and all events
    arising from or related to operations authorized under this grant of exemption.

    American wants it….give it to them.

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