A political tiff between the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, came to a head yesterday, as they cut ties with Qatar.
As a result, all three Gulf nations have refused Qatar Airways access to its airspace, in turn cutting it off from some of its biggest markets in Saudi Arabia.
The rift has come about after the three Persian Gulf governments accused Qatar of destabilising the region’s security over alleged Qatar support of militant groups including Islamic State, according to The Australian.
In a statement, the UAE’s Ministry’s Foreign of Affairs & International Cooperation wrote:
“Closure of UAE airspace and seaports for all Qataris in 24 hours and banning all Qatari means of transportation, coming to or leaving the UAE, from crossing, entering or leaving the UAE territories, and taking all legal measures in collaboration with friendly countries and international companies with regards to Qataris using the UAE airspace and territorial waters, from and to Qatar, for national security considerations.”
Geoffrey Thomas, aviation expert and editor of Airlineratings.com, told The Oz, “This will be a very significant disrupter both in loss of air routes to these particular countries, but also because Qatar Airways would now have to fly around those countries rather than over them.
“Flights to Australia and Asia fly over the UAE and Qatar Airways will be denied access to fly their aircraft over that airspace. They’ll have to do a significant diversion, which will add an hour, maybe more, to flight times.
“It will also significantly impact flight routes to other locations in the Middle East and such diversions might not be economically viable.”
Thomas also told The Oz that given the global uncertainty of late, people will think twice before booking Qatar due to the lack of trust other countries have given it, and potentially even avoid the Middle East altogether due to its political instability.
“A lot of the travelling public is skittish about international travel globally so this will likely do Qatar Airways no good at all,” he told The Oz.
According to Skift, Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier, said it would suspend flights to Qatar “until further notice.”
Etihad said on its website Monday its last flights “until further notice” would leave early Tuesday morning.
Emirates, the Dubai-based carrier, announced it too would suspend Qatar flights starting Tuesday, as did budget carrier FlyDubai.
According to Business Insider, CAPA Aviation analyst Will Horton said Saudi Arabia is Qatar Airways’ largest market. Additionally, the Qatar Airways’ presence in Saudi Arabia is the largest of any international airline.
On Qatar’s website, it shared the following statement:
“Qatar Airways has suspended all flights to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kingdom of Bahrain and Egypt until further notice.
“All customers booked on affected flights will be provided with alternative options, including the option of a full refund on any unused tickets and free rebooking to the nearest alternative Qatar Airways network destination.
“Please check this page regularly for further flight updates.
“Losing Saudi, Bahrain and UAE airspace would effectively ground Qatar Airways,” CAPA — Center for Aviation wrote in a report. According to Business Insider, that’s because Qatar actually has very little airspace relative to the size of the country. “It is largely surrounded by Bahrain airspace (the Bahrain FIR), a slither on the south is managed by Saudi Arabia while the UAE is on the eastern border,” CAPA stated.
By losing access to Saudi Arabia’s airspace, Qatar could be forced into rerouting its Africa-bound flights, however it’s the Bahrainian airspace that’s going to serve the biggest slap.
That means, should the ban hold up, Qatar Airways flights will need to fly through airspace that it is currently banned from in order to reach its home base in Doha.