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Is It Still Safe To Fly Gulf Airlines Through The Middle East? Tensions Rise And Civilian Aircraft Are Caught In The Middle

Is It Still Safe To Fly Gulf Airlines Through The Middle East? Tensions Rise And Civilian Aircraft Are Caught In The Middle

Is It No Longer Safe To Fly Gulf Airlines Through The Middle East? Tensions Rise And Civilian Aircraft Are Caught In The Middle

Tensions between Qatar and several neighbouring countries appear to be on the rise with allegations that civilian aircraft belonging to the UAE have been “intercepted” by Qatari military jets.  In the latest incident, Emirati authorities said the pilot of a UAE registered aircraft had to perform an emergency manoeuvre because Qatari fighter jets flew so close to it.

According to an official from the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), two Qatari Air Force jet fighters “unsafely approached” a UAE registered civilian aircraft, coming within 700ft of the airliner.

Ismail Al Blooshi, Assistant Director-General for Aviation Safety Affairs at the GCAA said the act was “way below the safe separation that is maintained at this kind of operation.”  Al Blooshi declined to say what airline was caught up in Sunday’s drama but it’s likely to be either Emirates, Etihad Airways or flydubai.

“This act, which is clearly a deliberate act, has endangered the lives of civilians on board and is a clear violation of International Civil Aviation Treaties, and actually puts international civil aviation traffic at risk,” Al Blooshi went onto say, describing the incident as “extreme”.

Authorities revealed two civilian aircraft had been targeted in recent days, with the aircraft collision avoidance system being activated in the more serious of the two incidents.  The GCAA said it would work with unspecified “allies” to prevent future incidents from occurring.

This isn’t the first time the UAE has made such allegations.  In January, a complaint was lodged with the UN, accusing Qatari fighter jets of once again intercepting two civilian aircraft which had both been en route to Bahrain.  In that case, at least of the aircraft involved was understood to belong to Etihad Airways.

But it’s not just the UAE that’s complaining of such aggressive acts.  Qatar today filed its own complaint with the U.N. Security Council, accusing Bahrain of violating its airspace.  A spokesperson for the Qatari government was quoted by Reuters as saying the infraction was a “serious breach that constitutes a serious and flagrant violation of international law.”

An Etihad Airways jet was allegedly intercepted by Qatari Air Force fighter jets in Janaury. Photo Credit: Etihad Airways
An Etihad Airways jet was allegedly intercepted by Qatari Air Force fighter jets in Janaury. Photo Credit: Etihad Airways

Qatar has denied ever flying its fighter jets close to civilian aircraft – saying the accusations being made by UAE was an attempt to cover up its own violations of Qatari airspace.  In January, Qatar made a separate complaint to the UN of alleged illegal infractions of its airspace by UAE aircraft.

How far this could all go, though, remains to be seen.  Analysts don’t expect either side to engage militarily and Qatar itself says it hopes it can resolve an ongoing diplomatic crisis peacefully.

For nearly 12-months, Qatar has been isolated by a Saudi-led bloc of countries including the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.  Saudi Arabia accuses Qatar of funding extremist groups and of destabilising the region.  The bloc has called on Qatar to comply with a list of demands it has drawn up – a plan Qatar resolutely refuses to comply with.

Since June 2017, Qatar has been shut off from its neighbours with flights grounded, airspace closed and Qatari citizens expelled.  Qatar, however, says it hasn’t retaliated in kind and still allows airlines like Emirates to use air routes that cross its airspace.

Nonetheless, the rhetoric has been increasing with officials, including the chief executive of Qatar Airways using every opportunity to denounce what he refers to as the “illegal blockade”.

One thing is for sure though – airlines in the region have quite enough problems to contend with at the moment as it is.  The thought of passengers being put at risk by what Al Blooshi calls “war games” is an issue they could probably do without.

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