HUGE: Saudi Arabia Opens Airspace To Qatar Airways, Gulf Blockade Ends

Filed Under: Qatar, Saudia

A few days ago the Gulf blockade came to an end, and as I write this the first Qatar Airways plane has entered Saudi Arabian airspace — how cool!

Four countries opening airspace to Qatar

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister has confirmed that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain, will be restoring full diplomatic relations with Qatar. This involves the reopening of airspace, land, and sea borders.

From an aviation standpoint, the biggest implication here is that Qatar Airways flights no longer have to avoid the airspace of neighboring countries, and flights between Qatar and the four countries involved can be resumed.

Qatar Airways’ airspace restrictions are coming to an end

First Qatar Airways flight now in Saudi airspace

In theory the Gulf blockade ended a few days ago, though at the time a NOTAM (which stands for “notice to airmen”) hadn’t been issued. In other words, Qatar Airways needs explicit permission to use Saudi airspace in an aviation context, beyond just the overall government agreement.

Well, a NOTAM has finally been issued, and QR1365 is the first Qatar Airways flight in several years to use Saudi Arabian airspace. The Airbus A350-900 is enroute from Doha to Johannesburg, so it’ll be cool to continue to track this. Going forward, Qatar Airways planes can freely use Saudi Arabian airspace.

Qatar Airways’ first flight in years entering Saudi Arabian airspace

While the flight is now departing towards the west, up until yesterday this flight would depart into the east, avoid UAE airspace, and then turn to the south and fly over Oman. As you can tell, this represents a significant change in route.

Qatar Airways’ route to Johannesburg until yesterday

A NOTAM hasn’t yet been issued granting Qatar Airways access to other airspace, though that should be coming shortly.

When should we expect flights to resume?

Eventually we should see Qatar Airways resume flights to countries involved in the blockade, and vice versa. It’s anyone’s guess whether we’re talking days, weeks, or months, though.

While Qatar Airways can use Saudi Arabian airspace immediately, only time will tell how long it takes until the airline resumes flights to destinations in Saudi Arabia. Pre-blockade, Saudi Arabia was one of Qatar Airways’ biggest markets.

Emirates may soon resume flights to Doha

What is the Gulf blockade, anyway?

The Gulf blockade against Qatar was first implemented in 2017. With this, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, introduced an airspace, land, and sea embargo on Qatar.

This has had a major impact on Qatar Airways, since the airline has been restricted from using airspace of nearby countries. This has in many cases added significant flying time (and mileage) to Qatar Airways flights, due to the detours needed. If you’ve flown Qatar Airways and looked at the moving map during your flight, you’ve probably noticed this.

A lot of Qatar Airways routings haven’t been very direct

What an incredible few months it has been for aviation in the Middle East, given that Saudi Arabia also recently opened its airspace to Israel flights, following a new peace agreement between the UAE and Israel.

This is simply massive news for Qatar Airways, and allows the airline to once again compete much more efficiently in many markets where major detours were previously necessary. I imagine in the coming weeks we’ll see Qatar Airways adjust schedules to shave off a significant amount of flight time in many markets.

Why is the Gulf blockade being resolved now?

What can this policy change be attributed to?

  • Qatar Airways has argued all along that the Gulf blockade is illegal, based on the Convention of International Civil Aviation, published by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); this document states that countries can’t restrict airspace in the way they have against Qatar Airways
  • Countries involved in the blockade tried to claim that the ICAO didn’t have jurisdiction here, but the United Nation’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the ICAO did have jurisdiction
  • Even so, getting any organization to actually enforce the rules is a completely different matter; Qatar Airways has tried to seek $5 billion in compensation for the blockade, but that’s a slow process

The reality is that this deal was likely brokered by President Trump, or more specifically, his son-in-law. There’s very little I’ll give President Trump credit for (and I’ll leave it at that), but ultimately I do think he deserves credit for brokering deals between Saudi Arabia and both Israel and Qatar.

EL AL can now also use Saudi Arabian airspace

Kushner recently met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to try to resolve this matter, and I guess something came of it. Now, that’s not addressing how this blockade started to begin with, but…

Bottom line

Effective immediately, the Gulf blockade against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain, is coming to an end, as these countries will restore diplomatic relations.

On the aviation front this means that Qatar Airways will no longer have to avoid airspace of neighboring countries (particularly Saudi Arabia, given its size). On top of that, Qatar Airways should be able to operate flights to countries involved in the blockade, and vice versa.

With Saudi Arabia having opened airspace to both Israel and Qatar, it has been a pretty awesome few months for aviation in the Middle East, despite coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia’s airspace is now officially open to Qatar Airways, and the first plane is now in Saudi airspace.

What do you make of this development?

Comments
  1. I hope that stays… as still a lot of Friends (co-worker) lives in Riyadh, that would allow them more options and i also hope soon the flights between Doha and UAE will start again..

  2. It’s comical to see how hard you are avoiding giving this administration credit for a new approach in the ME which is obviously working (I’m not fan of trump)

  3. The Abraham Accords will be part of Trump’s checkered legacy.
    But at least he will get the credit for making some progress on the perennial ME dumpster fire.
    I personally don’t see any downside to that.

  4. @Abey
    The detente is more *despite* the Trump administration than because of it.

    Trump wanted the Saudis to stand firm against Qatar as part of its policy of isolating Iran. But all it did was force Qatar and Iran closer (and strengthened their ties with Turkey, too). Kuwait should get the credit for doing most of the work to broker the deal.

  5. @Ben
    just to chime in with other folks here, Trump literally stoked the flame between UAE+Saudi Vs. Qatar. Kushner fumbled around trying to pick up the pieces, but our late Emir Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah worked tireless to broker peace between all the GCC nations and restore the Gulf Unity.

  6. Oh well, the whole issue was created early in the Trump administration by their allegation that Qatar “promotes terrorism”. Of course, Qatar never did so, at least to the extent any other “parisan” nation does (yes, Qatar has some stakes, so does Saudi Arabia and the US). So I guess the imminent departure of Mr. Trump gives the Saudi’s some discretion to correct previous errors in judgement. And so it does to anyone else.

  7. It was the Trump admin that gave its tacit approval/indifference over this happening in the first place, and the only reason this is coming to fruition now is that Trump is leaving and Biden is coming and the new admin won’t enable the Saudis as much as Trump did. The Trump admin deserves absolutely no credit for this and they failed to make anything happen during the past three odd years on this front.

  8. Looking at Flightaware for flights currently going into and out of DOH, looks like all QR flights are still actively avoiding Saudi airspace so far and maybe the routing adjustment will be applied after today or after their official deal is signed on Tuesday.

  9. @Ben you are, but trying very hard to avoid it, Trump policy in the ME will be the new standard Biden has already signaled that he will not change course.

  10. “…. I do think he deserves credit for brokering deals….”

    @Abey: Quite an attempt by Ben to avoid giving Trump credit for deals in the ME.

    Still, it is Kuwait that deserves the credit, not Messrs. Trump and Kushner.

  11. Now open up UAE. Then you can fly Dubai to Doha and take advantage of Emirates and Qatar for a good itinerary.

  12. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is part of a broader deal to be revealed that puts Qatar normalizing relations with Israel next (as well as possibly Oman).
    Seems like Kushner and MBS have a plan going – get all Saudi like-minded countries to normalize relations, and Saudi Arabia can then be last in line and say “hey, look at all the others so far that have done normalization”. It’s an issue for SA since due to them being the safekeeper of the holiest Islamic sites they can’t be seen as too eager to normalize relations with Israel.

  13. Any idea when we’ll see flights to Saudi on the schedule? Or other Arab countries for that matter?

  14. Very difficult to see how the wind-up porcelain doll (a.k.a. Jared Kushner) could have made any impact on the blockade situation unless he bribed MBS with a US legal concession or two. I gather there’s quite a handful of matters the Saudis would like to see ‘disappear’ .

  15. Unbelievable how it pains you to credit the trump administration for really bringing peace to the middle east.

  16. @abey, it’s because Trump is leaving that this is happening. Kushner was the one who forced the blockade.

  17. Credits you can give Trump no matter how much you hate him (in particular order)

    1. Great economy
    2. Middle East peace deals
    3. Standing up to China
    4. New economic agreement between US, Mexico and Canada
    5. Vaccine creation through Warp Speed program
    6. No new wars started
    7. No more threats from North Korea

  18. Still waiting for someone to fill me in on what Trump did that is so horrific… I mean he is basically Hilter right? Should be pretty obvious and clear to explain.

    And when you tell me this horrible thing, please compare it to Obama’s handlers smashing Libya to the point it now has open air slave markets.

    But who cares… all glory to Biden and on to Syria amirite! At least the Liberal Elite and their army of keyboard warriors will not be questioned by anyone in power; that is so much more important than the bunch of ancient villages and poor people in Syria about to be destroyed.

  19. @Alex Z
    You forgot the reduction in airline passenger fatalities which Trump took credit for in his first year of office (though doesn’t seem to have mentioned recently, since they went up last year. Presumably also his fault?).

  20. @AlexZ
    1. If you’re well invested in the stock market, but otherwise, not so much.
    2. What are the major peace deals that you’re referring to? He killed the Iran nuclear deal and they’re now bulding up uranium.
    3. Ok, but what has his “standing up” actually accomplished? He killed US to China agricultural trade and replaced it with farm subsidies that we all pay for, along with his tariffs.
    4. I personally don’t see what he renegotiated that greatly benefits the USA. GM and Ford haven’t been moving plants from Mexico to the US from what I’ve seen. We also had to pay for the wall ourselves.
    5. I’ll go ahead and give you that, but it really was driven by private business.
    6. I’ll give you that one.
    7. They were just testing missiles months ago that can reach the US, and are still developing their nuclear program. He accomplished nothing with North Korea. Don’t you remember their promise of a “Christmas Surprise”? Is that not a threat?

  21. Ben, you stifle your own voice by belaboring around anything remotely complimentary to right-wing US politics.

    If you’re going to credit President Trump for this deal then simply do so, if you’re not then don’t. Either way you need not muddle your writing by including several caveats and qualifiers in the process.

  22. While it was the Trump’s administration that ignited the crisis, Kushner deserves the credit for solving this geopolitical quagmire. He worked tirelessly to end the conflict and his recent visits to Riyadh and Doha played a huge role in solving the crisis, and he deserves a credit for that.

    But, it is the late Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah who worked and mediated the crisis from June 5th, 2017 (when the crisis started) until September 29, 2020 (when he passed away). He tirelessly worked to broker the deal between the nations and thanks to the new Emir, Sheikh Nawaf of Kuwait, the end of the dark tunnel is finally in sight!

    I believe, we are a couple of months away from seeing DXB-DOH, RUH-DOH, JED-DOH flights and the GCC Summit in Al-Ula today will mark a huge development as we could see the quartet lifting the blockade on the State of Qatar.

  23. Ben, it’s your blog so why are you constraining yourself in giving someone his due credit? Are you scared you’ll trigger some political nutjobs and get bombarded with self-righteous indignation? Speak your mind fully, manfully and truthfully. And let the nutjobs stew in their own indignation. I refuse to self-censor or ‘cancel’ myself because I refuse to let the bastards control me.

  24. Does he still get credit when he started out enthusiastically encouraging the blockage, making this whole shitshow possible in the first place?

  25. Best wishes to @Alex Z and @DaKine for your inevitable hospitalization for severe mental disorders.
    Regrettably I understand that most Acute Delusion wards are filling up quicker than Covid ones.

  26. I’m delighted by this news, used to fly them between Milan and Dubai if EK wasn’t available!!! Let’s hope UAE will start again too.

  27. I didn’t vote for him in 2016. Having said that he should have received the Nobel prize for peace for this Arab deal. They give it instead to the World Food Programme, can you get any more obviously anti-Trump than that? Credit where credit is due.

  28. @ glenn t
    It’s because of people like you that there ever was someone like Trump as president. God forbid someone has an opinion different than yours. Half the country is fed up with people like you, this is not a matter of a few with mental disorders as you put it. Hope you stay safe behind your screen you lil devil you!

  29. @ Wesley

    Thank you for a civilized rebuttal to my list. Obviously you can always find something you don’t agree with but this is what my opinion is. I won’t get into too deeply in responding to every point you made but:

    The peace deals between Israel/UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, that might be nothing to you but everything to me and it’s a big foreign policy win, can’t knock it and it happened on his watch

    You’re right in terms of Warp Speed it was the pharmaceutical companies that created a vaccine but again if people going to blame him for Covid spread, you got to credit him for the fastest vaccine roll out in history

  30. OMG…. I never thought that I would ever see this blog even REMOTELY give this Administration credit for ANYTHING…. but the facts are here…

    No less than SIX posters here have voiced something which is not 100% anti-Trump.

    It may even end up looking like you might eventually miss him, guys! 🙂

    Seriously, One thing that hasn’t been written here (back to world geopolitics) is that this ends Qatar’s complete existential dependence on Iran (they would have been choked to death within weeks without Iran’s help and fully 85% of QR’s flights overflew Iran daily for close to 4 years).

    I read this as the beginning of major world manoeuvers before a total conflict with Iran.

    Time will tell and we shall PROBABLY have a clearer picture within 2 weeks, depending on what happens here.

  31. @Alex Z I also appreciate your civilized response, and it gives me hope that maybe we can all move past this extremely harsh partisan rhetoric. I respect and appreciate your opinion, and think it’s always fine to agree and disagree on subjective things. We should all share our opinions, but without lying about facts. I’m mostly concerned that a lot of people don’t realize the difference between reality and conspiracy anymore. Nothing you said was factually untrue, nor was my rebuttal, so it allows an honest discussion of opinions. I miss that in the current USA. Thanks for giving me a little hope for the future.

  32. @Alex Z

    I like the list and agree mostly.

    Clinton tried everything under the sun to achieve to achieve the limited peace between the Palestinians and Israelis but was totally unable to make any progress. His biggest failure (other than ML). This new deal during the Trump administration is so much more comprehensive and offers real hope for the region.

    @Wesley

    If you think that Iran was not using the previous agreement to enrich Uranium all along under the noses of the UN inspectors who were prevented from going anywhere near them than I have a very low price bridge for sale. Unfortunately Europe stayed the appeasement course and now at least the enrichment centrifuges are not hidden any more and anyone else in the world has no excuse when Iran does the dirty. However, with relationships between the Arab League and Israel becoming much more normalized that will leave Iran ‘alone’ as the hostile terrorist nation that they have been since the Ayatollah. It may not deter them from a strike against Israel when their bomb and the Korean missiles are in place but I hope it will.

  33. @ Roberto:

    For establishing relations with Israel, Qatar is in a very strange position. Officially the Emirate is a hard liner, but no more than Saudi Arabia is or the UAE were… In fact, they had far more unofficial and hidden contacts than those two countries, if only because of the Israeli traffic at the major US base near Doha.

    The only country with more “unofficial contacts” these past 50 years has been Morocco. but that’s because Israel has a huge population of Moroccan Jews.

    Qatar most likely will not have “official” relations with Israel before Saudi Arabia, if only for protocol and mutual niceties reasons. Jared Kushner and Donald Trump have been the architects of this agreement, and everybody will want to be extremely well behaved to the others. But since the Saudis have considerably softened their stance, who knows? A complete and official re-establishment of relations could be tomorrow.

    Once again, the agenda against Iran will be paramount.

  34. It’s just possible this re normalization of affairs has more to do with Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022. All the ME countries are football crazy and the thousands of emirs all around the ME will want elevated access to the multiple proceedings. It’s also my thought the World Cup was also a factor in the recent unbundling of Qatar’s business class fares.

  35. Ben needs to take advantage of Trump’s final days in office. After all, his political bias creates “engagement” and brings traffic to his blog. Once the Lord and Savior of all woke Americans took the oath of office, world peace will be imminent and we all will live happily ever after. The End.

  36. International peace treaties? Trump is a good or bad guy? Who cares, I just want Qatar Air back at DXB so I can use AAdvantage miles.

  37. Ah, to be so privileged to be undeniably correct. I would live, as would all educated and reasonable persons, a laundry list of all the terrible inconveniences this administration has thrust upon its citizens. No, really, the real ones… not your made up garbage. Not just the “he’s a loud mouth idiot”. That describes at least the previous three Presidents.

  38. Sad. My time in Q Suites per AA Mile spent ratio will be going down. An important metric that doesn’t get enough coverage. Shorter routings be damned.

  39. Let’s see, if QR will resume flights DOH to DXB and DWC. Will they continue to call their Business Class on this routes “First Class”? The access to Al Safwa Lounge, when connecting via DOH to DXB or DWC, was appreciated as well as the opulent meal service on this short flights and the brilliant hard product, as mostly 350, 787 or 777 were used on DOH-DXB.

  40. @Nikolaus – That’ll be the case. At present, Business Class flights to Kuwait/Muscat are marketed as First Class. I see no reason as to why they shouldn’t market their J Class seats as First Class on flights to DXB/AUH/SHJ/RUH/JED. And by doing that, they’ll have a considerable flow of passengers coming in through AlSafwa. Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, DWC flights are highly unlikely though.

  41. I guess the Daily Stormer doesn’t have a travel section so the MAGA troglodytes have to come here to continue their never-ending tantrum. Losers.

  42. if you have been following this closely over the last several years, you will know that despite what the American press would like to assert that Trump/Kushner were the reason behind the thaw, that is fake news. The real party that consistently expended an immense amount of effort to broker this deal was Kuwait, not the United States. After the Iraq-Kuwait situation 30 years ago, the Gulf Arab countries have strived to ensure that issues amongst each other are resolved without third parties overtly interfering. Trump/Kushner may have made their views known, but they brought nothing to the table and there was no compelling reason for anyone to listen to them now, or previously. Kuwait literally singlehandedly and relentlessly pursued this behind the scenes discreetly and using shuttle diplomacy for the last few years and it’s their efforts that have delivered results. The Western/American press however, would like you to think otherwise.

  43. @EBWaa

    Hilary lost in 2016. I don’t think you ever got over that.

    The economy and the country have since actually had 4 pretty good years.

    The next 4 are going to be very interesting as in “may you live in interesting times”. There is always hope that the left wing woke won’t totally screw things up.

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