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Airlines view skies warily as Mideast states fall out

June 6, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

A simmering and complex diplomatic dispute in the Middle East is overflowing into the skies and affecting flights, with Etihad Airways suspending all flights to and from Doha, capital of Qatar, from today (6 June 2017) until further notice.

The dispute has the potential to go further and disrupt air travel in the Middle East. The Khaleej Times, an English-language newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), yesterday carried the following press statement issued by Etihad Airways, the Abu Dhabi-based national airline of the UAE:

“The last flight from Abu Dhabi to Doha will depart as EY399 at 02:45 (local time) on 6 June. The last flight from Doha to Abu Dhabi will depart as EY390 at 04:00 (local time) on 6 June.

“All customers who are booked on Etihad Airways flights to and from Doha are being provided with alternative options, including full refunds on unused tickets and free rebooking to the nearest alternate Etihad Airways destinations.”

A diplomatic dispute is brewing, involving the UAE, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbour Qatar, the home of Qatar Airways. The largest and most populous city in the UAE is Dubai, home of Emirates Airline, commercial partner of Qantas.

The dispute potentially involves the home countries of several major international airlines which carry hundreds of thousands of Australian passengers annually.

Nicole Kidman aboard an Etihad A380

So what’s the dispute about? In a nutshell, strategic politics and alliances. Qatar’s state media published statements attributed to its Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani which criticised the policy towards Iran maintained by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Got that?

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain have cut their ties with Qatar as the dispute escalates, opening up the worst rift in years among Arab states. The other states say Qatar is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist groups and possibly Iran.

The three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their countries. Qatar has also been expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has blocked its airspace to flights to or from Qatar.

Qatar owns the influential state-owned satellite broadcasting channel al Jazeera, which generally enjoys a good reputation, but Saudi Arabia accuses Qatar of backing militant groups and broadcasting their ideology via al Jazeera.

Bahrain (home to Gulf Air) has also attacked what it calls Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain”.

MEANWHILE, Etihad’s cancellation of flights to Doha seems unlikely to affect many Australian travellers and Etihad continues going from strength to strength internationally, having just introduced its flagship Airbus A380 aircraft on its second daily service between Abu Dhabi and New York JFK. All 14 weekly flights between the two cities are now operated by the double-decker aircraft.

Etihad’s A380s have replaced a three-class Boeing 777-300ER previously operating one of the airline’s twice-daily flights. The new deployment means New York will join London and Sydney as an all-A380 operation.

In Europe, Etihad has announced plans to boost its European Dreamliner network with the deployment of B787-9 Dreamliner aircraft to Amsterdam and Madrid.

The 299-seat Dreamliners will be introduced on year-round scheduled services to Amsterdam from 1 September, and to Madrid effective 1 October, joining Düsseldorf and Zurich as the airline’s other European Dreamliner services. The 787-9 will also operate seasonally to Athens during the summer months.

With a phased delivery of nine Boeing 787-9s this year, the aircraft are gradually being introduced on a number of international routes from Etihad’s Abu Dhabi hub.


Written by Peter Needham

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