“Losing Saudi, Bahrain and UAE airspace would effectively ground Qatar Airways,” CAPA — Center for Aviation wrote in a report.
Airlines from the United Arab Emirates — including Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt suspended flights to Doha means a major blow to Qatar Airways.
Qatar airways relies on shuttling passengers from larger nearby countries like Saudi Arabia across its network of more than 150 destinations. The airline carries millions of passengers every year, many of whom stop over in Doha, helping boost tourism and business, which are vital to Qatar’s plan to reshape its energy-dependent economy.
Qatar Airways responded by immediately suspending flights to Saudi Arabia. Later in the day, it cancelled flights to the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt from Tuesday “until further notice.” Passengers would be rebooked or provided refunds for unused portions of flights, the airline said.
“As a hub carrier with a small domestic market, feed traffic is their bread and butter,” airline consultant John Strickland said.
Air traffic between Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi — three of the world’s busiest international travel hubs — has sharply increased in recent years, as the Gulf carriers expand routes worldwide using newly built airports as bases.
Dubai’s Emirates and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad operate 11 daily flights in total to Doha. Other airlines, including budget carriers, such as Flydubai and Air Arabia, also fly regularly to Doha.
A prolonged slump in oil prices has dented earnings and subdued business travel and a US ban on carrying some electronics in plane cabins and the threat of a wider travel ban has added to woes.
Many Qatar Airways flights to Southeast Asia fly over the UAE and rerouting these would add time and cost as planes burn more fuel, Mr Strickland said.
According to Flightradar24, Bahrain sent notified pilots that it will limit flights to and from Qatar by Qatari aircraft through its airspace to a single air route. This means, even if Qatar Airways isn’t grounded, it will be subject to heavy air traffic congestion.
Over the past two decades, Qatar Airways has grown to become one of the most influential international airlines in the world. In 2015, consumer aviation website Skytrax named it the best airline in the world.
Qatar Airways has vowed to continue growing despite these headwinds, but being cut off from nearby markets could pose a bigger challenge.