Several Mideast nations cut ties to Qatar this week ostensibly because of that nation’s support of terror (though it’s far more complicated, Qatar has been siding with Iran in international affairs despite being majority Sunni, and Middle East conflict is largely proxy battles between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran).
There have been ongoing disputes between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and crises have erupted from time to time. This one comes right after the US President visited and signaled unwavering support for Saudi Arabia and a strong position against Iran.
— gary leff (@garyleff) May 21, 2017
The move is throwing air travel in the region into chaos. Airlines like Etihad, Emirates, and Gulf Air aren’t flying to Doha. And the severing of relations has created limits on Qatari-registered aircraft flying through the airspace of some of the countries involved.
- Saudi Arabia is requiring special permission for overflying.
- Egypt requires aircraft to have special permission to overfly.
- Bahrain has banned aircraft from operating between airports in the two countries.
- The UAE is requiring special permission.
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
You may have heard that Qatar’s airspace is limited.
Qatar does not have its own flight information region, it’s within the Bahrain region. The Doha terminal control area is from ground to 24,500 feet, and above 24,500 feet is the Bahrain Upper Information Region.
Traffic is re-routing primarily via Iran and Iran has published a Traffic Orientation Scheme:
– Qatar outbound Northbound via Tehran FIR-Ankara FIR. FL150-FL190 routing RAGAS-UT430-LAGSA -UL223-TESVA/ALRAM.
– Qatar outbound Southbound via Muscat and Karachi FIRs, FL150-FL190 via RAGAS-M561-ASVIB (KARACHI FIR), and RAGAS-M561-KHM-NEW FIR (MUSCAT FIR)-BUBAS
– Inbound to Qatar from North: FL240-FL300 via ALRAM-UT36-MIDSI
– Inbound to Qatar from South: FL240-FL260 via N312/A453-MIDSI.
Bahrain has published two routes for air traffic in and out of Qatar.
– Outbound: UT430 via RAGAS
– Inbound: UR659 via MIDSI
Bahrain likely can’t legally bar Qatar aircraft from this airspace. And if they could, they likely couldn’t or wouldn’t enforce a no fly area through the Persian Gulf between Qatar and Iran although the lack of service provision would present technical challenges.
Nonetheless, the effect of closed airspace on Qatar Airways flights can be illustrating by flight QR943 from Singapore to Doha. Here’s the routing for that flight into Doha on Sunday:
And here’s the routing for that flight today:
In fact you can see Qatar flights lining up to avoid restricted airspace.
We’re going to see flights taking longer to fly (more circuitous routings), burning more fuel (costly to Qatar Airways), and running into congested airspace (more delays and cancellations). And of course Qatar’s regional operation is severely limited by being unable to fly to four countries in the area. Over 70 flights were grounded Tuesday.
Tomorrow Qatar Airways shows its Abu Dhabi flights zeroed out. Etihad shows theirs cancelled.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Qatar is showing seats for sale again starting Saturday (while Etihad’s are gone through end of schedule). QatarAirways.com will sell you these seats.
So Qatar is acting as though this is temporary – very short term – while Etihad is acting like this is an ongoing issue for the foreseeable future. Saudia Arabia has ordered Qatar Airways offices in the country closed.
It’s unclear how this resolves itself or how quickly. Qatar is facing enormous pressure to tame its foreign policy and fall in line with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. If they don’t the crisis could escalate, and there have even been threats of attempts at regime change.