As It Happens

Pilot struggles to keep Afghanistan's main airline operating after staff killed in hotel attack

Kam Air Captain Samad Osman Samadi is struggling to keep Afghanistan's biggest airline running after a Taliban attack took nine of his colleagues' lives.
Kam Air director general and pilot Capt. Samad Osman Samadi says it's hard to attract employees with so much violence in Afghanistan. (Submitted by Samad Osman Samadi)

Story transcript

The future of Afghanistan's most important airline is in question after a deadly hotel attack in Kabul last week.

In a country where the roads are often too dangerous to drive, Kam Air is responsible for close to 90 per cent of domestic flights.

But the airline has relied on international pilots, flight crews and engineers to keep the planes in the air. Many of those expats made their homes behind the security perimeter of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel.

Then, last week, gunmen took over the hotel. They murdered 22 people including nine who worked for Kam Air. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

As It Happens guest host Helen Mann spoke to the director general for the airline, Capt. Samad Osman Samadi. Here is part of their conversation.

How are you and your colleagues coping with the loss of so many of the people that you work with?

It's not easy, not easy. It's a disaster for everybody. We've lost not only nine people — we lost so many people who've been shocked that night and they just left Afghanistan. We lost more than 35 people on that day. It's very difficult, very difficult. I'm just covering all the other flights because we don't have enough captains at the moment. 

A man tries to escape from a balcony at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during the attack by Taliban gunmen. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

Where were you when you heard about the attack?

I was at my home at that time and I left. I was close to the hotel at that time, having contact with everybody. We made a Viber [instant messaging] group to just have a contact with all of them.

Usually you are sending messages that everything is fine. But I was receiving opposite messages that there is a fire on the first floor, there is a fire on the second floor. 

Did the responses stop coming?

Yeah, that was the terrible time. We had a group of more than 35 people at the time. So every time we recognized that somebody is just going offline, that means that he was killed or he was not online anymore.

Portraits and coffins of Ukrainian employees of the Kam Air Afghan airline arrive at the international airport in Kabul. (Rahmat Gul/Associated Press)

You mentioned that other employees that are not Afghani have left the country. How hard is it to attract those people to come and work with you?

It's very hard. I think it's impossible at the moment. I don't think it's even possible to get those guys back or others who can even come back [because] of the situation that's going on in Afghanistan. 

Is the security situation, in your mind, so bad that you can't tell them that they will be safe?

Of course, that's the main reason.

If Kam Air were to be forced to close, to stop flying altogether, what would that mean for Afghanistan?

I can assure you that Kam Air is not going to be closed. We will continue with whatever is happening.

But for Afghanistan, it's very important. Kam Air was the connection between all the cities between Afghanistan. Especially in such a difficult time, because nobody can travel on the road at the moment, especially people who work for the government.

Given that violence, how do you feel about your own safety? What's your feeling about the state of life in Afghanistan right now?

Not good — not good at all. I'm originally from Afghanistan but I'm British. I have a British passport. For us, I think we got used to it, maybe. It's terrible to say that, but we got used to it. 

A coffin with a portrait of a Ukrainian employee of Kam Air. Many of the staff are expats, but Samadi says it is hard to attract employees given how dangerous it is to work in Afghanistan. (Rahmat Gul/Associated Press)

Can you see a point in time when that won't be true? Is there any reason to expect that this will end?

Not at all, no. What I'm thinking is it's getting worse. Day by day, it's getting worse. I don't see any future on this — any bright future.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Captain Samad Osman Samadi.

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