Doha 08 August 2017 (AlJazeera News) 1130 PM
Qatar Airways can now access a new route over international waters in the Gulf controlled by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the world aviation agency announced. The Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been working with "various Middle Eastern states to ensure equitable access to airspace for Qatar-registered aircraft" since sanctions were announced on June 5, ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin said on Tuesday. "Some existing air route availability has been assured, and some new temporary or contingency routes have also been developed," including through Bahrain and UAE airspace, he told AFP news agency.
Qatar had asked the ICAO to approve new routes after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt banned Qatar Airways from their airspace as part of economic and diplomatic boycott. The air traffic restrictions have caused headaches for the 2.4 million residents of Qatar, 90 percent of whom are foreigners, as flights were forced to take longer routes, for example, to Southeast Asia. "The ICAO and the states involved are continuously monitoring related air route suitability and ATM (air traffic management) measures, which may still be subject to further modification if necessary, by mutual agreement," Philbin said. Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at the aviation consultancy Strategic Aero Research, said the new corridor, though temporary, bodes "well for a longer term solution that may provide much needed breathing space for Qatar Airways". Ahmad told Al Jazeera that while he does not "see any resumption of pre-June 2017 normalcy in terms of flights to and from Doha", it will enable Qatar Airways to fly a little more efficiently, particularly when it could not previously fly over UAE airspace. The UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting "terrorism", an allegation Doha vehemently denies. As part of the blockade, the countries restricted airspace for all Qatari-registered aircraft. The announcement on Tuesday follows a close-door meeting last week between delegates and UN aviation agency's governing council in Montreal. Those at the meeting discussed contingency routes that had been planned as part of a preliminary agreement reached earlier this month, but not yet opened to Qatar-registered flights. Doha had asked ICAO to intervene after its national carrier was denied access to the Saudi-led group's airspace. Qatar's Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement that the new route "was great success for Qatar, given its ability to convince the International Civil Aviation Organization of the importance of compliance by the siege countries to the Chicago Convention". Strategic Aero Research's Ahmad said that while the ICAO meeting may have prompted conversations, there was "no indication that the ICAO directly influence" the decision of the blockading countries. He warned the new corridor could be "rescinded in minutes" if the UAE or Bahrain decide to do so.