Mideast Diplomatic Rift Wreaks Havoc with Airlines
By Andrew J Wood
Published June 8, 2017
This diplomatic rift is wreaked havoc with airlines in the region, with major long-haul carriers such as Doha-based Qatar Airways, Bahrain’s Gulf Air, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad and Dubai’s Emirates suspending flights, leaving many passengers stranded at airports in the Gulf.
Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and the UAE have severed ties with Qatar over what they say is Qatar’s support for terrorism, a claim Qatar denies.
Alan Peaford, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Magazine, says Qatar airways will see greatest impact.
“The real problem would be if airspace closes. Not just for Qatar Airways passengers, but also for cargo, like food and fresh fruit that is flown into the country. If Qatar is banned, I can’t see a way out of the country for Qatari aircraft.”
Saj Ahmad, an analyst with London-Based Strategic Aero Research, tells Khaleej Times that airlines “like Emirates, FlyDubai and Etihad out of Abu Dhabi will end up reeling from the sudden collapse of traffic rights.”
The long term-effects “are far from clear”, Ahmad says. “This has the potential to be a long and drawn-out affair.”
How did this dispute start and what is it about?
Qatar’s state media published statements attributed to its Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, which criticized the policy towards Iran maintained by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain then cut their ties with Qatar as the dispute escalated, opening up the worst rift in years among Arab states. The other states say Qatar is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist groups and possibly Iran.
The three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their countries. Qatar has also been expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has blocked its airspace to flights to or from Qatar.
Saudi Arabia accuses Qatar of backing militant groups and broadcasting their ideology via its influential state-owned satellite broadcasting channel, Al Jazeera.
Bahrain has also attacked what it calls Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain”.
And the diplomatic crisis has wider implications. Qantas, for instance, has said Qatari nationals will be banned from boarding Qantas flights via Dubai because the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has banned them from passing through its airports. The Australian airline, which has a commercial alliance with Dubai-based Emirates, is banning citizens of tiny Qatar from its flights via Dubai until further notice.
“Major airlines based in the UAE have announced that flights between the UAE and Qatar will be suspended from 6 June 2017 until further notice,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade informs travellers. “While Egypt has closed its airspace to Qatari aircraft, Qatar Airways flights to and from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain may also be affected. If you have an upcoming flight to, from or transiting Doha, contact your airline or travel provider for further information. We understand that Qatar Airways flights to and from Australia will continue to operate. ”
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are reported to have revoked the licenses of Qatar Airways on Tuesday and ordered its offices closed down within 48 hours, which will prove very expensive for the airline.
This is a serious blow to Qatar Airways which has one of the youngest fleets in the sky and has been growing at a rapid pace.
Aircraft manufacturers are nervous about financial fallout from the dispute, with billions of dollars of orders potentially at risk. Qatar has hundreds of new aircraft on order including 60 A350s; 30 B787 Dreamliners, 46 A320s, 4 A380s and 60 B777s. Qatar have been on the cutting edge when it comes to ordering new planes and were the first airline to operate the A350.
Andrew J Wood is a professional hotelier, Skalleague, travel writer, and director of WDA and Thailand by Design Co. Ltd.
An eTN article.