Putting an end to the blockade imposed on June 5, 2017 by a coalition of Countries led by Saudi Arabia, on January 7, 2021 flight QR1365 was the first Qatari aircraft to overfly Saudi Arabian airspace, as it made its way from Doha Hamad International airport (DOH) to Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International airport (JNB).
For the chronicle, Airbus A350-900 A7-ALW took-off at 21.13 (28 minutes behind schedule) and landed in JNB at 4.32 completing an 8 hours 19 minutes flight. As shown by flightradar24.com, while the same flight on January 6 had headed south-east after departure in order to avoid Arabian and Emirati airspace and then circumnavigate the Musandam peninsula over Oman before effectively proceeding south-west towards Johannesburg, on January 7 QR1365 headed west-southwest after lift-off and crossed the whole Arabic peninsula from the Qatari border to Jeddah on its way to South Africa.
Flight time at 8 hours 19 minutes was a mere 10-15 minutes shorter than what the same flight had recorded during the previous week when the blockade was still in force, and even shortly longer than the 8 hours 15 minutes registered on January 6, but nevertheless the flight was a giant leap for Qatari commercial aviation, and namely Qatar Airways.
THE ARABIC DISPUTE
In fact, a number of other Arabic Countries had supported the blockade promoted by Saudi Arabia, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, the Maldives. The Saudi-led coalition had cited Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism as the main reason for their actions. Saudi Arabia and the other countries had criticized Al Jazeera tv network editorial line and Doha’s relations with Iran. Demands by the coalition included reducing diplomatic relations with Teheran, stopping military coordination with Turkey, and closing Al-Jazeera.
For its part, Qatar acknowledged that it had provided assistance to some Islamist groups (such as the Muslim Brotherhood), but denied aiding militant groups linked to al-Qaeda or the Isis. Qatar also claimed that it had assisted the United States in the War on Terror and the ongoing military intervention against Isis. On its side, Doha could count on Iran and Turkey for food aid, diplomatic and military support and airspace access (according to Al Jazeera, Qatar pays about US$133 million annually for use of Iranian airspace).
A HEAVY TOLL FOR QATAR AIRWAYS
Qatar Airways paid a heavy toll as a consequence of the blockade considering two aspects: first of all, the blocking Countries had been key-markets for the airline since it took to the skies back in 1994.
Then, the carrier’s operations saw increased flight times, particularly on services to Africa and South America, and consequently increased fuel consumptions and costs. For example, flights to and from West Africa sometimes had to overfly the Mediterranean Sea, because countries like Chad and Niger supported the blockade representing an obstacle along more direct routes across Africa to and from Doha. The carrier’s services to Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires had been heavily afflicted too, with up to one hour and a half to add to ‘normal’ flight times along more straight trajectories.
Following an arbitration by the USA and Kuwait, on January 4, 2021 Qatar and Saudi Arabia agreed to resolve the crisis and one day later signed a common declaration at Ulula, with precise details to be released later. On the same day, the land border between the two Countries, plus the airspace and sea-space of the Countries involved in the dispute returned to a pre-June 2017 status. Finally, in the late evening of January 7, the purple ‘Oryx’ flew back in Saudi Arabian skies. (Header Photo Wikimedia Commons / Juke Schweizer)