Qatar Airways faces crisis as escalating diplomatic row sees border and airspace closures

Air travel across parts of the Middle East has become very complicated after Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) cut ties with Qatar, closing border with the small Gulf nation and effectively blocking land, air and sea traffic in and out of the country due to a row over terror and regional stability. Governments in Yemen, the Maldives and the eastern-based government of Libya have subsequently joined the move to end relations with Qatar.

The unexpected and coordinated move dramatically escalates a dispute over Qatar’s support of Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and its perceived tolerance of Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, Iran. The dispute is the worst to hit the Gulf since the formation of the Gulf Co-operation Council in 1981 and is significantly impacting air traffic in the region and particularly the operations of Qatar Airways, one of the world’s fastest growing airlines.

Air services between the nations have been suspended, while airspace restrictions mean that most of Qatar Airways’ flights out of its Hamad International Airport hub in Doha are having to take alternative routings. This is adding significant time to some flights and in individual cases is forcing the airline to make supplementary stops en route for additional fuel.

Although Qatar Airways is naturally playing down the impact of the closures on its operations, The Blue Swan Daily can reveal that looking at local traffic alone as many as 5,500 of its own daily passengers and around 12,450 overall passengers could be impacted by the cancellation of the flights between Qatar and Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Qatar Airways offers more than 50 daily flights into the four countries which also provide important feed to its sixth freedom transit operation increasing the likely impact considerably.

Analysis of traffic data from OAG shows that Qatar Airways carried an estimated two million two-way O&D passengers between Doha and Bahrain (250,000), Egypt (250,000), Saudi Arabia (360,000) and the UAE (1.15 million) in 2016. It is the largest airline in these markets with a 44.0% share of the demand: Bahrain (48.2%), Egypt (37.6%), Saudi Arabia (65.9%) and the UAE (40.5%). In fact Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among its largest global source markets.

A closer look at schedule data for June 2017 from OAG shows that ten carriers will be impacted by the closure of flights, impacting around 130 daily flights. Qatar Airways accounts for 81.5% of the seat inventory between these markets.

CHART – Capacity Between Qatar and Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE (June 2017)

You can find out more detail about the issue and the landing and airspace restrictions and the wider ramifications for global aviation in this special CAPA Insight report: Qatar Airways Middle East landing and airspace restrictions; wider ramifications for global aviation