Official: US to Manage Afghan Airspace Until Mid-September

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The United States will continue to manage Afghan airspace and air-traffic control for another two-and-a-half months after its current contract expires at the end of June, according to an Afghan official.

The airspace, a key air corridor between Europe and Asia, has been managed by the U.S.-led international military coalition or foreign companies paid by donor countries since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban regime.

But with the pullout from Afghanistan of international combat troops, responsibility and control of the airspace was to transition to the Kabul government -- a task authorities were unprepared for. That stirred fears that international airlines would have to cancel flights both into the country and over its territory.

Now, a solution has been found, Mohammad Qassim Wafayezada, the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority's deputy director general on policy and planning, told The Associated Press late Tuesday.

The U.S. would continue to manage Afghan airspace till Sept. 16, which will allow for a smooth transition until a well-experienced international company takes over, Wafayezada said.

That company, which he declined to name, won the contract after a tender for the next two years. Paperwork is underway and the contract is to be signed soon, following negotiations over some more details.

"There is nothing to be worried over for now or the next two years," he said.

Qasim Rahimi, Civil Aviation Authority spokesman, said the company will work under Afghan government supervision. It will hire foreign experts, but also train and employ Afghan staff, something authorities had set as a condition during negotiations, Rahimi added.

There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials over the extension.

Air traffic over Afghanistan, as well as to and from the Central Asian country, generates about $33 million a year, Wafayezada said in May. International airlines that fly into the Afghan capital include the Dubai-based Emirates, Air India and Turkish Airlines. Many other airlines fly over Afghanistan.

There are no flights to and from the European Union because the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority is not recognized by the bloc, which cannot certify it due to safety deficiencies.

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