Qatar Airways on Thursday began to re-route flights through Saudi airspace as authorized under the terms of an agreement reached among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt that eased the airspace restrictions they imposed on Qatar in 2017. The first flight left Doha for Johannesburg at 8:45 pm local time, the airline said in a tweet issued just ahead of a statement from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) welcoming the deal reached Tuesday.
The agreement, brokered by the U.S. and Kuwait and reached during the GCC annual summit, lifts the economic and diplomatic boycott imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain and allows Qatar Airways to resume normal flight operations over those countries.
“This resolution to the former Gulf airspace restrictions will help assure that the important socio-economic benefits of international air connectivity can be better optimized among all the countries concerned,” commented ICAO council president Salvatore Sciacchitano. “ICAO's role is to work with and among sovereign states to ensure more open skies globally, and continuously improving levels of aviation safety, security, and sustainability.”
Imposed ostensibly in response to Qatar’s alleged support of Islamic extremists and Iran, the restrictions forced the Qatari flag carrier to reroute flights to many of its international destinations through Iranian airspace, often resulting in significant increases in block time and fuel consumption. On flights to points east and south of Doha, the airline had to make minor detours over the Strait of Hormuz to avoid UAE airspace, while the inability to fly over Saudi Arabia complicated access to Africa.
For its part, ICAO established contingency routes through its regional office in Cairo to ensure safe and regular international flights in and out of the gas-rich Gulf state.
“We were grateful to fulfill this important role when called upon and to help assure that international air transport in the affected areas remained as safe, secure, and efficient as possible while the restrictions were in force,” said ICAO secretary general Fang Liu.