UPDATE: Qatar Airways can't afford for UAE, Bahrain to rescind on open skies

By Shayan Shakeel 5 June 2017
UPDATE: Qatar Airways can't afford for UAE, Bahrain to rescind on open skies

Update June 6, 2017: Following the story below, Qatar Airways has issued the following statement and said no other statements will follow until it advises: "Qatar Airways operations are running as normal with no disruptions to flights with the exception of those to the four countries Qatar Airways has been restricted to fly to. In response to these restrictions Qatar Airways has arranged for three charter flights departing Jeddah today at 16:00, 22:00, and 23:00 local time, to Muscat in order to assist all Qatar Airways passengers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We encourage all Qatari passengers stranded to make their way to King Abdulaziz International Airport to avail of these three flights today, Tuesday 6th June. Full details of these charter flights are available on Qatar Airways Travel Alert page."

 

Story continues:

An escalation in the rift between Qatar and the Saudi led Gulf Cooperation Council over ties with Iran, has left Qatar Airways scrambling to figure out a solution to where and how it can continue to fly, depending on whether the rest of the surrounding GCC countries will maintain their commitment to open skies.

Conversation about the impact of the rift dominated IATA's 73rd Annual General Meeting in Cancun, Mexico, which Akbar al Baker left moments after news of Qatar Airways being banned from landing in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain broke.

Saudi Arabia shut its airspace to Qatar yesterday in a ban which also extended to land and maritime routes. But Saudi Arabia is not treaty to the 1945 transit agreement which allows for open skies and airlines to fly freely through a country's airspace. The UAE and Bahrain are treaty to the agreement, (the UAE has been a chief champion of the cause in its argument with the US over carrier subsidy disputes) possibly why both have so far only banned Qatar Airways from landing and taking off from within their airspace.

That leaves Qatar Airways with the option of continuing to fly through the UAE and Qatar, crucial to its ability to operate. With Saudi Arabia blocked to its West, the country's airspace (depicted by IVAO and IndoAvis in images above) is effectively encircled by Bahrain's airspace with a small window to its south through which it can fly to the UAE. If both countries rescind on their open skies commitments, Qatar Airways would be effectively locked out of being able to fly out of Doha.

So far Emirates, Etihad, Saudi Airlines, Flydubai, Air Arabia, and Gulf Air have all announced they are cutting flights to Qatar. Qatar Airways has announced it has cut flights to Saudi Arabia, in apparent retaliation by Qatar, but has announced neither cessation of flights or indicated how it continues to fly to the other countries after being denied to continue flying passengers out of the UAE or Bahrain.

Radar data shows Qatar Airways is currently routing its flights through Bahraini and Iranian airspace to maintain operations. However, the superconnector relies on source markets in the UAE, including Dubai and Ras al Khaimah, as well as those in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for a significant chunk of its passengers.

Despite being smaller in size than Emirates, the airline flies to more destinations than any other airline in the Gulf, operating more flights to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE than all others to Qatar combined--CAPA estimates an average of 51 flights by Qatar Airways versus 23 by Emirates, Etihad, Flydubai, Air Arabia and Gulf Air.

Analysts Frost and Sullivan have told Bloomberg, the airline stands to lose 30 percent of its revenue if the ban persists.

 

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