Saudi Arabia has expressed optimism that a three-year blockade on its small regional neighbour Qatar could soon be resolved following talks being mediated by Kuwait. Qatar Airways and its passengers would benefit massively if a deal can be brokered, with shorter flight times on the majority of the airline’s routes, as well as the resumption of a slew of routes that had been shuttered almost overnight.
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) suddenly severed diplomatic ties with its Persian Gulf neighbour and imposed a blockade on the tiny but hugely wealthy country.
The Saudi-led quartet immediately closed their airspace to Qatari registered aircraft, meaning that Qatar Airways was forced to reroute its aircraft in the tightly packed region through Iran, Turkey and Oman. Most of the airline’s flights suddenly became a lot longer with some increasing in flight time by as much as an hour.
Qatar Airways also had to abruptly end service on 18 regional routes which had proved lucrative for the airline. In the case of Doha to Dubai, Qatar Airways used to shuttle planes between the two cities up to 18 times per day.
The effects on the airline’s finances were felt almost immediately and by 2019 Qatar Airways had reported a $639 million loss. Along with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, those losses ballooned to $1.9 billion in 2020.
Akbar Al Baker, the airline’s often outspoken chief executive who has repeatedly described the blockade as “illegal”, directly attributing the actions of Qatar’s neighbours on the company’s finances through the loss of mature routes and increased fuel costs.
In July, Qatar Airways won a legal case at the International Court of Justice to allow the official civil aviation agency of the United Nations to decide whether Qatar Airways should be allowed to fly through the airspace of the blockading nations whether they liked it or not.
Separately, the airline is also pursuing a legal case in the English High Court against a Saudi news station that suggested Qatar Airways planes could be shot down if they violated the airspace restrictions.
On Friday, however, Saudi Arabia’s foriegn minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said “significant progress” had been made in recent days in an attempt to break the current deadlock and resolve the crisis.
“We hope that this progress can lead to a final agreement which looks in reach, and I can say that I am somewhat optimistic that we are close to finalising an agreement between all the nations in the dispute to come to a resolution that we think will be satisfactory to all,” the prince was reported as saying.
Qatar’s official news agency reported the country’s foreign minister as saying that he hoped “things will go in the right direction” but that an agreement might not be “imminent”.
Unlike the United Arab Emirates, however, there doesn’t appear to be any plans for Qatar to start direct flights to Israel. Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Qatar’s current working relationship with Israel was sufficient and it wouldn’t normalize relations further unless the Palestinian people are granted their own independent state.
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.