The aviation boycott imposed on Qatar by its Arab neighbors is a violation of the Chicago Convention regulating civil aviation, which upholds the principle of open skies that countries such as the UAE have previously professed to support, Will Horton of the Melbourne-based Centre for Aviation told Radio Sputnik.
On Monday, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, alleging that the Gulf nation supports terrorists and militant groups with ties to Iran. The governments of Yemen and Libya followed suit later in the day.
Transport links have also been affected. Saudi Arabia has closed the crossing at Qatar’s only land border, which Qatar uses to import about 40 percent of its food supplies. Iran, with which Qatar shares a natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, has offered to deliver food by sea.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have also closed their airspace to the national carrier Qatar Airways, and airline carriers from the UAE Emirates, Etihad, Flydubai and Air Arabia have canceled all flights to and from the Qatari capital Doha.
The airspace ban means that Qatar’s flagship airline will have to pay higher costs to reroute flights, including higher fuel expenses and more stops to refuel.
The airspace ban will also disadvantage Doha’s plans to develop itself as a global transport hub. The Hamad International Airport opened in 2014 and earlier this year became the first airport in the Middle East to receive a prestigious 5 Star rating from the international air transport rating organization Skytrax.
Will Horton, a senior analyst at the CAPA Centre for Aviation in Melbourne, told Radio Sputnik that the airspace ban will have a major impact not only on Qatar’s flagship carrier and its new airport, but the country’s economy as a whole.
“Aviation always drives economic activity and in places like Qatar, the UAE and even Singapore we see that aviation has a much higher impact because it is disproportionately larger than the local economy,” Horton explained.
“Aviation is really one of the key pillars for Qatar’s economy,” and is a catalyst for other areas of the economy such as tourism, as people stop off in Doha on their way to other places. Becoming a transport hub also facilitates Doha’s status as a business center.
“In terms of the impact – this is a little bit of a low season for the region because of Ramadan. In terms of the four core markets affected – there are about 82 daily flights that will no longer be affected and 55 of those are from Qatar Airways.”
The boycott will force Qatar Airways to re-route flights, making them longer and more expensive, perhaps with stops for refueling. The airline’s popular cargo carrying service, which recently received the global cargo airline of the year award, will be affected to a lesser extent.
“A lot of cargo these days is carried in the bellies of passenger aircraft so the cargo gets affected a little bit of the same way. There are also dedicated freight aircraft, those are a little easier to adjust because maybe those can make an additional stop or two en route,” Horton said.
“So far, Qatar Airways is trying to operate its flights normally, maybe a little bit longer due to the airspace diversions. One passenger flight from Doha to Sao Paolo has to stop over in Athens, that’s obviously not ideal for passengers who have to make a stop and endure some time on the ground. But for cargo, as we say in the industry, the boxes never complain. So, you can send them as many stops as you want to – it’s just not [as] efficient.”
In the short term, rival regional carriers such as Etihad and Emirates may be able to pick up business from Qatar Airways. However, in the long term the dispute is bad all round for the aviation business.
“Really, there are no winners. In the medium and long term all of aviation is losing from this. Public confidence is being destroyed. Passengers are not going to be concerned about why exactly Qatar can’t fly this way, or why laptops can’t be brought on some flights, or why there are different liquid restrictions. Overall, the impression to the public is that aviation is becoming more complicated and more of a nuisance. And really, aviation needs to be making it easier to travel and encouraging people to have freedom of movement.”
Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE are signatories to the Chicago Convention regulating international air travel, which requires contracting states to facilitate and expedite navigation between their territories and prevent unnecessary delays. The airspace ban on Qatar could have implications for their membership of the convention.
“This [the convention] was not signed by Saudi Arabia, so they are able to take away airspace although this is highly unprecedented. However, the UAE and Bahrain have signed the Chicago Convention so it appears that they are breaching the convention. This one of aviation’s basic principles, that governs how airlines can operate internationally.”
“It does appear that there is some intention for this dispute not to be very long-lasting and so therefore it’s probably unlikely to try to have some enforcement over this convention, which some of these countries appear to be in breach of. But certainly, going forwards, it is rather reflective for the industry that something so basic and such a principle can be violated by some very prominent countries including the UAE, which has long promoted the idea of open skies, liberalization and progression,” Horton said.