Qatar Airways Wants Compensation for Lost Airspace Access

 - July 17, 2020, 12:06 PM
A Qatar Airways Airbus A350 takes off from Doha. (Photo: Qatar Airways)

Qatar Airways will seek compensation from four Arab neighbors who have refused to allow it to use their airspace under the terms of a boycott now in place for more than three years, it announced Thursday.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled Tuesday that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was competent to hear the dispute, after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt argued that the body’s aviation-only remit left it ineligible to decide on “security” matters.

“In line with the ruling of the ICJ and the legal precedent allowing the State of Qatar to continue its case at ICAO against the blockading States, Qatar Airways will pursue its case for appropriate compensation of the financial injuries inflicted… as a result of the illegal airspace blockade,” the airline said Thursday.

“The arbitrary and abusive measures that these four States have taken against us have devastated our carefully planned decades-long program for investment and growth in those countries; they have arbitrarily prevented us from serving hundreds of thousands of passengers, and transporting tens of thousands of tons of cargo to and from each of these countries annually,” it added.

The quartet, along with six other Arab nations, abruptly imposed a boycott on Qatar in June 2017, over its alleged links to terrorist groups, an allegation Qatar strongly denies.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, the UAE filed a formal complaint with ICAO in 2018 after “repeated incidents where Qatari fighter jets intercepted Emirati civilian aircraft during [scheduled flights].”

The two sides’ increasingly shrill denunciations of each other in recent months, with progressively more certain claims of rectitude and self-justification, have underlined the increasing intractability of the dispute, after resolution appeared possible late last year. The ICAO Council expects to hand down its judgment next year, but any decision will unlikely to leave Qatar Airways any more able to use its neighbors’ airspace.

On flights to points east and south of Doha, the airline has had to make minor detours over the Strait of Hormuz to avoid UAE airspace, involving what it regards unnecessary time and expense, while the inability to fly over Saudi Arabia complicates Qatari access to Africa. The ban on flights to Saudi Arabia and the UAE has led to erosion of considerable market share from the region’s traveling public.

In September, Qatar Airways reported a $639 million loss for the year ending March 31, up from a loss of $69 million in the previous financial year. Group CEO Akbar Al Baker attributed the airline’s performance to the “loss of mature routes, higher fuel costs, and foreign exchange fluctuations,” but said underlying fundamentals “remain extremely robust.”

In reiterating Qatar’s victory before the ICJ, Al Baker said that three members of the quartet were ineligible to sit on the ICAO Council, which operates under the rules of the 1944 Chicago Convention.

“ICAO is the custodian of the Chicago Convention and the only UN agency in charge of implementing the convention,” it said in a statement. “This illegal act of the four states is contrary to the Chicago Convention: three of the four countries involved are sitting on the ICAO council and should be recused.”

In June, the World Trade Organization ruled that Saudi TV station, beoutQ, had illegally disseminated content owned by Qatari sports channel, beIN Group, a judgment threatening the Saudi government’s plan to take over an English soccer club. Saudi Arabia claimed the ruling upheld its position.

Qatar’s intent to launch legal action could involve hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars and would likely remain in the courts for years. “Qatar Airways will pursue all available legal remedies to secure full compensation to protect our rights and the rights of our customers,” it concluded.