Qatar Airways is to seek monetary compensation from four regional neighbours that severed diplomatic ties with the State of Qatar in June 2017 and imposed an air, sea and land blockade on the tiny Persian Gulf nation. The announcement from the government-owned airline came a day after the International Court of Justice issued a ruling giving the UN’s aviation watchdog the right to hear a challenge brought by Qatar over airspace restrictions that allegedly caused the national airline to report a $639 million loss in 2017.
The Saudi-led bloc, which includes Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suddenly cut diplomatic ties with Qatar more than two years ago accusing the country of supporting and financing international terrorism. The once regional allies also accused Qatar of sowing unrest in the Gulf by siding with Iran.
Saudi Arabia has issued a list of demands to end the blockade, including taking the popular Doha-based Al Jazeera rolling news station permanently off air. The demands have been roundly rejected by Qatar.
As a result, Qatar Airways continues to be banned from operating flights to or from the blockading nations, as well as flying through the airspace of the quartet. Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways has frequently spoken out about what he describes as the “illegal blockade”, saying it has destroyed mature markets and significantly increased costs through extra fuel burn and longer flight times.
“Qatar Airways will pursue its case for appropriate compensation of the financial injuries inflicted on Qatar Airways as a result of the illegal airspace blockade,” the airline said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The arbitrary and abusive measures that these four States have taken against us have devastated our carefully planned decades-long programme for investment and growth in those countries,” the statement continued.
“They have arbitrarily prevented us from serving hundreds of thousands of passengers, and transporting tens of thousands of tons of cargo to and from each of these countries annually.”
Qatar will now return to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Montreal to pursue its claim against the Saudi-led bloc. The country is seeking a ruling that the four countries have broken rules governing the use of airspace by international airlines under the Chicago Convention 1944 and the International Air Services Transit Agreement.
“At Qatar Airways, we firmly believe that travel is a right for all and that this world is all of ours to explore,” a spokesperson for the airline explained. “Qatar Airways will pursue all available legal remedies to secure full compensation to protect our rights and the rights of our customers.”
Al Baker says the blockade gave it the experience to deal with rapidly changing border restrictions imposed by countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Qatar Airways became the largest international airline at the height of the pandemic and continued flying to at least 30 destinations throughout the crisis – the airline will operate 450 weekly flights to 70 destinations by the end of July.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) said it would defend itself against the claim and reiterated its belief that the blockade is justified because of Qatar’s alleged support of terrorism.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.