Qatar’s Air Travel Dilemma

A small peninsula jutting out into the Persian Gulf has made the news on the week of June 5th, 2017. Why?

Because that peninsula is the nation of Qatar, and it involves the nation’s airspace. Or rather, how diplomacy is affecting airspace. This past week, the nation of Qatar is undergoing accusations of funding terrorism in the Gulf region. As a result, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have discontinued ties with Qatar. To put this into a geopolitical perspective, check out the map below.

map-of-qatar

Qatar is surrounded by the nations that are cutting diplomatic ties with it. There is something more to consider: Travel. Air space.

If an airplane flies out of Qatar, it will be entering the airspace of ALL THREE of the nations cutting ties with it. This is a problem because airplanes flying out of Qatar are not allowed into the airspace of those countries.

one-map-shows-how-much-trouble-qatar-airways-may-be-in

Photo by Business Insider/IVAO

Look at this map. Bahrain’s airspace sits in between Qatar’s airspace and Iran’s airspace. In short, Airplanes from Qatar cannot go anywhere. A small amount of airspace would be a problem. However, geography is about LOCATION. If Qatar’s airspace could extend directly to Iran’s airspace, a ban on Qatar planes into surrounding airspace would be costly, but tolerable.

Qatar Airways has its base in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Flights bound for Qatar wouldn’t be able to Doha without traveling through airspace it is banned from traversing. What will this cost? This would cost Qatar Airways a large amount of money. If all flights to and from a certain place are grounded, this costs alot of money. And then people have to fly back to Qatar.

Currently, UAE, and Bahrain are part of the  International Air Services Transit Agreement. Legally, they cannot prevent flights from Qatar from traversing their airspace. However, the aforementioned nations could opt out of the treaty. Saudi Arabia, however, is not part of that treaty and can enforce a travel ban on planes flying from Qatar. What would this cost?

Travel to the African continent would essentially be longer and more costly. Flights to South Africa would be hit hard. And this is if flights from Qatar Airways are allowed to fly through UAE airspace, because that is the route flights would have to take if they are banned from traveling through Saudi Arabia’s airspace.

The Gulf region in the Middle East has historically been a contentious region. There have been many conflicts over a millennium. This is just the latest. Could another war break out in the region? How will Qatar’s economy be affected by this? If people cannot easily fly to a place, they will likely not want to do business there, or be tourists there. There are so many implications to consider. Geography, geopolitical, and economic.