How Qatar Airways can stay in the air

Hannah Edensor

A 70-year-old international aviation law could save Qatar Airways from being completely grounded.

As reported by News Corp, Qatar Airways could save its international flights – that don’t include any of the countries its been banned by – thanks to one little loophole.

Earlier this week, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt all cut ties with Qatar, blocking movement between the countries, which included air transport. It also has prevented Qataris from transiting in airports of these nations.

As a result, Qatar Airways has suspended flights to these nations, while Etihad, flyDubai and Emirates have also stopped flights into Qatar. Yesterday, Qatar Airways responded to the ban in a statement provided to The Nibbler and other media outlets.

The bans have resulted in the axing of about 100 flights a day, and the grounding of several aircraft.

Qatar is completely surrounded by airspace occupied by Bahrain, Saudi and the UAE, but an international aviation law, news.com.au reports, can allow international passenger flights to overfly territories enroute to somewhere else.

The ‘Transit Agreement’, signed by the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, means Qatar Airways can fly over Bahrain’s airspace to continue its services, albeit using a single path that gives the planes quick access to Iranian airspace, and causes plenty of congestion.

“Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE have committed under the agreement to permit scheduled flights from the State of Qatar to overfly their airspace,” said CAPA – Center for Aviation, per news.com.au.

“This outcome is most delicate for the UAE, which has upheld itself as a champion of liberalisation and open skies.”

Interestingly, Saudi Arabia has not signed the agreement, so has no obligation to allow transitory flying through its airspace.

Image source: Business Insider; IVAO
Image source: Business Insider; IVAO

However, per news.com.au, CAPA has warned that any of these countries could remove themselves from this agreement, and this could jeapordise the only thing keeping Qatar in the air right now.

“If the theory is clear, the practice is grey: the sensitivity of the dispute and urgency to force action does not necessarily mean the Transit Agreement will be complied with or will be seen as valid.

“There is no police force to enforce commercial international [aviation] compacts. So it often falls to bring antagonists to the table; but here Qatar appears to have little to fight back with — in aviation terms at least.”

And per news, it looks like this worst-case scenario could be coming true, with authorities in Bahrain’s capital of Manama issuing a new flight directive on Wednesday.

“All flights registered in the state of Qatar are not authorised to overfly Bahrain airspace,” the memo stated.

Per news, CAPA says regardless of the outcome – which could very well see the grounding of one of the world’s biggest airlines – the dispute has no doubt seen the reputation of Gulf carriers take a dip.

“Confidence in aviation has been dealt a blow and for aviation there are no long-term winners from this,” CAPA said in a briefing, per news.

“A speedy resolution is needed.”

According to an exclusive report from news.com.au, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Australia’s relationship with Qatar remains in tact.

Qatar Airways operates daily flights to Doha from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, plus five flights each week from Adelaide, with plans to extend its services to Canberra this year as well.

“We encourage leaders in the Gulf to maintain dialogue to repair ties as soon as possible and we welcome any efforts to mediate a resolution,” said Bishop, per news.com.au.

“Australia maintains good relations with all member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Qatar.”

Meanwhile, Qatari nationals will not be allowed to board Qantas flights to Dubai because the UAE has banned them from passing through its airports, the airline’s Chief Executive said.

Emirates is a codeshare partner of Qantas.