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Qatar crisis means big trouble for Qatar Airways

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Amid the ongoing rupture in diplomatic relations between Qatar and its surrounding Arab nations, the small peninsular state’s national airline has been banned from flying to the four countries spearheading what is essentially an economic blockade: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

That Qatar’s only land border is with Saudi Arabia has already sent thousands to supermarkets, where frantic shoppers have hoarded food in case of a shortage. But there are borders in the air, too. And Qatar is encircled by its aggressors; its only three air borders are with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia has totally banned Qatari-registered planes (i.e., all of Qatar Airways’ fleet) from crossing its airspace — and because it isn’t a signatory of the International Air Services Transit Agreement, it can do so legally. Qatar, UAE and Bahrain are all signatories, but UAE has stood firm on a ban similar to Saudi Arabia’s.

If not for a gesture of goodwill from Bahrain, whose airspace practically encircles Qatar, the airline would have to cease operations. The gesture is this: all Qatari-registered planes can pass through Bahraini airspace, but only along two specific routes — one for incoming planes, the other for outgoing. That’s like channeling a major city’s traffic onto just one highway. Here’s a visualization of what that looks like for outgoing flights:

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt are not letting Qatar Airways use their airspace, leaving the country’s national carrier with just one narrow corridor to fly in and out of its base in Doha.

Before Qatar’s neighbors’ campaign to isolate the country, Qatar Airways flights would regularly pass through Saudi and Emirati airspace. In fact, a full 18 percent of the airline’s flights were to the four countries leading the blockade — all of which are now suspended “until further notice,” per their news release.

According to Iran’s Tasnim news agency, air traffic control in Iran was expecting nearly 200 more Qatar Airways flights to cross its skies per day — in other words, all or almost all Qatar Airways flights will pass through its airspace.

Those planes regularly traversed Saudi airspace, in particular, before the crisis. All flights to Africa, as well as the airline’s flight to Sao Paulo and onward to Buenos Aires, used Saudi airspace. Many more used the Emirati airspace that lies just to Qatar’s east, toward the rest of Asia and the Pacific. (Source credit – The Washington Post)

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