Friday, February 3

He Flew Commercial Planes In Afghanistan. Now He Has To Start Over.


Abdul Hafiz Akbarzada packed to depart Kabul the day the U.S. utterly withdrew its forces on Aug. 30, 2021. He knew this was his final takeoff from the nation he had at all times referred to as house.

He wore his navy blue, gold-striped pilot’s uniform and flight bag. He boarded the aircraft, however this time, he sat within the passenger seat.

When Kabul had fallen to the Taliban two weeks earlier, many pilots stayed underground and refused to take flights. But Akbarzada, 32, was one of many few business pilots who continued to function regardless of the chaos that plagued the airport.

At a time when tens of 1000’s of individuals have been speeding to the airport to flee the nation for concern of the Taliban’s retaliation, he felt his information and expertise have been wanted. During the frenzied evacuation, business airways supplied planes to airlift 1000’s of individuals to nations together with UAE, Qatar, Albania and Uganda. Akbarzada flew 4 flights to Qatar and UAE over the last two weeks of August and airlifted a whole lot of Afghans.

“There was chaos in all places,” Akbarzada recalled. He was scheduled to fly a aircraft to Ukraine the day Kabul fell. To get to the airport, he needed to stroll for an hour and a half as a result of the roads to the airport have been full of vehicles. When he arrived, he discovered that nothing was the identical anymore.

“There was no authority, no order, no nothing,” he stated. “The airport and the roads resulting in it have been clogged with individuals who have been attempting to flee. The civilian aspect of the airport was left uncontrolled, and everybody was speeding to board any plane on the ramp. There have been shootings and screams in all places,” he stated.

He by no means beforehand thought-about leaving the nation, although he had loads of probabilities.

But his dedication to staying had wavered earlier than one among his final business flights when Taliban members stopped Akbarzada and his captain as they have been strolling to the terminal for an evacuation flight to Qatar. They each wore their ordinary navy blue pilot fits with golden stripes, white shirts and ties, carrying their iPads, headphones, licenses and flight paperwork of their luggage.

When the Taliban members checked their luggage, Akbarzada tried to elucidate that they have been solely civilian pilots who had nothing to do with the navy or former authorities. But one of many Taliban inspectors pointed a gun at him and yelled, “Shut up, Infidel, I’ll shoot you!”

Akbarzada by no means thought the Taliban would threaten a civilian pilot. He couldn’t assist however take into consideration his household, about his pregnant spouse and his unborn little one, about his youthful siblings and their futures. “What would occur to them if I’m threatened and never revered as a pilot on the airport?” he requested himself.

So he left. Akbarzada is now one of many 1000’s of Afghans within the U.S. who fled their nation when Kabul fell to the Taliban final summer season with a view to keep away from revenge killing and persecution. Many extra expect to relocate this 12 months.

Akbarzada flew four evacuation flights to Qatar and UAE prior to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Akbarzada flew 4 evacuation flights to Qatar and UAE previous to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A Dream Cut Short

Akbarzada began out in 2011 as a check-in agent for Kam Air, the most important non-public airline in Afghanistan. One day, when a captain and his cabin crew have been passing by means of the terminal hallway, he observed everybody standing with their proper hand on their chest as an indication of respect, and that was the second he knew he needed to be a pilot. His love of flying solely grew after he joined the cabin crew.

He determined to start saving as much as transfer overseas and prepare as a pilot. After speaking it over along with his boss and securing some funding, he ultimately made it to the United States to finish his skilled aviation schooling. In 2017, he accomplished a rigorous two-year coaching program in Daytona Beach, Florida, and earned his business pilot license from the Federal Aviation Administration. He returned house as a licensed business pilot and made his first flight as a trainee pilot for Kam Air.

“It was a dream come true,” Akbarzada stated. “I used to be very excited. It’s probably the most superb feeling particularly once you take off and land for the primary time and you might be sitting within the cockpit controlling the plane.”

Hafiz Akbarzada as a pilot in Afghanistan, where he worked for Kam Air.
Hafiz Akbarzada as a pilot in Afghanistan, the place he labored for Kam Air.

With greater than 3,000 hours of flight time as a primary officer pilot, Akbarzada hoped to at some point sit on the left aspect of the cockpit as a captain. He needed to purchase a home and lift his little one in Kabul. That dream died when he was compelled to flee.

“I had blended feelings,” Hafiz recalled of the second his aircraft took off from Kabul that day. “You’re unhappy since you left the whole lot you’d constructed, glad as a result of your loved ones’s secure, anxious since you don’t know what the long run holds for you.”

After spending 9 months within the facility in Abu Dhabi often known as the Emirates Humanitarian City, which has housed a whole lot of displaced Afghans since final 12 months, Hafiz and his household made it to the U.S. in July of this 12 months and settled in Denver. Thousands of Afghans are nonetheless residing in non permanent housing in Abu Dhabi, awaiting resettlement within the United States or different nations.

Starting Over Again

Akbarzada’s displacement value him his sense of normalcy and peace. He was a profitable pilot, about to turn into a father for the primary time, with a loving spouse and household and a vibrant future forward. Having his son in a brief shelter with no everlasting nation to name house was the very last thing he ever anticipated.

“There have been occasions I assumed possibly I ought to have stayed and by no means left,” he stated. “But as I checked out my son once more, I knew I had made the fitting resolution.”

Akbarzada said his position as a check-in agent for Kam Air "taught me to be patient and work towards my goal slowly and consistently."
Akbarzada stated his place as a check-in agent for Kam Air “taught me to be affected person and work in direction of my purpose slowly and persistently.”

Akbarzada’s arrival within the United States, nevertheless, has given him renewed hope for a recent begin. Since he’s a licensed business pilot, he hopes to fly once more within the U.S. He speaks fluent English, a ability many Afghans lack and that forestalls them from getting higher jobs in America. Additionally, U.S. airways are experiencing a pilot scarcity, making Akbarzada’s 1000’s of flying hours extremely fascinating.

But for Akbarzada to get again to his profession, he might want to spend 1000’s of {dollars} and weeks acquiring a separate license referred to as an ATPL – Airline Transport Pilot License.

Akbarzada lately started working as a customer support agent for United Airlines at Denver International Airport — beginning in an entry-level place at an airline as soon as once more. “It jogs my memory of my early days as a check-in workers at Kabul airport,” he stated. “I believe these days taught me to be affected person and work in direction of my purpose slowly and persistently.”

He hopes the job will assist pay his payments and fund the prices related to the ATPL.

A flight certificate sits framed on Hafiz Akbarzada and his wife’s dresser in their new Colorado apartment on Sept. 12, 2022.
A flight certificates sits framed on Hafiz Akbarzada and his spouse’s dresser of their new Colorado residence on Sept. 12, 2022.

Like Akbarzada, 1000’s of extremely expert latest Afghan arrivals within the U.S. have been compelled to take low-paying occupations to make ends meet. Many of those people used to work in administration, info know-how, engineering, drugs or aviation.

Akbarzada’s non permanent immigration standing may additionally hinder his profession as a pilot. Without everlasting residency, he can’t fly abroad. It may take years for Afghan arrivals to get their inexperienced playing cards until lawmakers enact the Afghan Adjustment Act launched final month. The proposal would make it attainable for Afghans to get everlasting standing outdoors of the at present backlogged asylum system.

But that hasn’t discouraged Akbarzada.

“I’ll by no means hand over flying,” he stated. “My purpose is to get again within the air and at some point turn into a captain within the U.S.”


2022-09-17 12:11:50

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