Qatar Airways might be able to enjoy the smallest of reprieves by a Saudi led bloc of four countries including the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. In a press release by the official news agency of the UAE, authorities said “nine emergency routes for use by the Qatari planes” had been granted. The move was agreed in coordination with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN agency that oversees international aviation.
Since 6th June, all Qatari aircraft have been banned from flying over airspace belonging to the four countries. It follows a major diplomatic rift between the Saudi block of countries and the State of Qatar. The national airline, Qatar Airways, has been forced to fly around the closures leading to longer flight times and some delays. All flights between Qatar and the four countries have been suspended and Qatar Airways was forced to close its offices as authorities revoked their licences.
The latest news came amid speculation that further economic sanctions were about to be imposed on Qatar. The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain met in the Bahraini capital, Manama on Sunday to discuss the crisis.
Announcing the opening of emergency routes, a source at the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, the GCAA, said: “Such a step confirms our commitment to the safety of regional and international air navigation, given that it is a standard practice in similar circumstances.”
Emergency comes into effect on 1st August
The nine emergency routes are due to ‘open’ on 1st August. The agreed routes will follow corridors away from land and have been communicated to Qatar via a ‘Notice to Airmen’ (NOTAM). One of the routes is over the Mediterranean Sea in international airspace and will be managed by Egypt. The circumstances under which Qatar Airways can take advantage of these emergency routes are as yet unknown.
However, according to Reuters, Qatar has denied any emergency routes had been agreed. Instead, a spokesperson described the reports as “false information”. Qatar has requested a special meeting with ICAO and this is scheduled to get underway on Monday. So far, ICAO has not made any public statement on the news.
At the meeting of foreign ministers in Bahrain, the coalition of countries reaffirmed their stance on Qatar. They released a statement reinforcing “the necessity of Doha stopping its support and funding of terrorism; sheltering and providing safe havens for fugitives and defects convicted of terrorism and its financing in their countries; promoting hatred rhetoric and incitement; and meddling in the internal affairs of the region’s countries.”
The foreign ministers again demanded Qatar comply with a 13 point list of what they describe as “anti-terror demands.” They also expressed readiness for dialogue with Qatar but only on condition that Doha “declares its sincere willingness to stop funding terrorism and extremism and its commitment to not interfere in other countries’ foreign affairs.”
Qatar Airways continues expansion despite blockade
So far, the blockade and economic sanctions have done little to stop Qatar Airways continued expansion. Last week, the carrier announced it would begin operations to Canberra, Australia in 2018. It follows recent route launches to Nice, France; Kyiv, Ukraine and Skopje, Macedonia. The airline has also increased frequency to Moscow, Russia and Colombo, Sri Lanka.
“At a time when many other global airlines are standing still, Qatar Airways has continued to elevate industry expectations, innovate the consumer experience and expand its global network,” said a spokesperson for Qatar Airways.
Addressing the effects of the blockade the airline explained how it had worked to reduce the impact: “The intelligent redeployment of aircraft and crew to partner airlines such as British Airways and Royal Air Maroc ensures that planes do not idle, whilst reduced operational costs from the 18 affected destinations have helped to balance any perceived financial impact.”