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A Qatar Cargo 777F (Photo: Nicky Boogaard from Hardinxveld-Giessendam, Netherlands [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)])

Bahrain Reopens Airspace To Qatari Aircraft

Another piece of the complex geopolitical situation in the Middle East has just fallen into place: the Civil Aviation Affairs at the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications of Bahrain has announced that as of Jan. 11, the airspace of the Kingdom of Bahrain will be open to Qatari-registered aircraft, the Bahrain News Agency reports.

An official notice to airmen — better known as a NOTAM — was issued on Sunday, removing the ban on Qatar that lasted over three and a half years.

This is another fundamental step in the diplomatic efforts led by the U.S., which led to a resolution to a standoff between the state of Qatar and Arab countries Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that had been going on since 2017.

Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. had already announced the reopening of their airspace to Qatari-registered aircraft late last week.

The breakthrough came at a summit last Tuesday, developments that would lead Saudi Arabia to announce the end to the commercial boycott of Qatar and the subsequent reopening of its airspace to Qatari aircraft. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have already announced reopening air, land and sea entry points to Qatar, Reuters reports.

The dispute originated years ago with accusations made by the four countries that the government in Doha supports terrorism activities.

Flights from Doha to the four countries will be reinstated within a few days, but diplomatic relationships will take longer to be restored since trust needs to be rebuilt as episodes of retaliation between Bahrain and Qatar have been continuing until as late as last Sunday, when a Bahraini bodybuilding champion was arrested by the Qatari coast guard while on a fishing cruise.

This is good news for Qatar Airways, the biggest airline based in Qatar, which for over three years had to fly sub-optimal routes out of its Doha hub in order to avoid airspace in which it was prohibited to fly, wasting millions of dollar to avoid the skies above Saudi Arabia, Bahrein and the UAE. Southbound and westbound flights were the most affected by the restrictions, with flight plans having to rely on using the Iraqi airspace adding hundreds of miles to the distance flown and burning tons of unnecessary extra fuel.

Qatar Airways had adjusted its operations to the new geopolitical environment, continuing its operations without suspending any routes, except those to the four countries involved in the trade war, and maintaining a significant schedule even after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated demand for travel around the world. Despite not having a domestic network due to the small size of its home country, Qatar Airways managed to become the biggest airline in the world during the months of May and June 2020 maintaining services to 70 destinations all over the world and launching 11 new links during the month of July.

Vanni Gibertini
Vanni Gibertini
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