A United Nations agency will broker a meeting between Qatari aviation officials and counterparts from Arab countries, as the tiny Gulf nation tries to regain air rights and mitigate the economic fallout of the crisis.
Senior envoys from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain will gather at the International Civil Aviation Organization this week to continue diplomatic discussions about the flight embargo, the UN agency said by email. ICAO has been reviewing requests from Qatar to ease a ban that its government deems illegal.
Qatar’s neighbors severed diplomatic and transport links to punish it for allegedly backing Islamic militants, a charge the Gulf nation denies. The resulting isolation has forced the world’s richest country by capita to open new trade routes to import food and other essentials, and added hours to flight times as pilots circumvent its neighbors’ airspace.
Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker called on ICAO to declare the blockade illegal, saying in a statement on Wednesday it is “in direct contradiction to the convention that guarantees rights to civil overflight.”
While the region’s second-biggest airline maintains that operations to and from its Doha hub are running smoothly and the carrier will continue expanding its network as planned, Al Baker told Al Jazeera he’s concerned the carrier “will underperform” as the political standoff casts “some dark clouds.”
Since Qatar Airways can no longer serve 18 destinations in the region due to the ban, it will steer unused capacity to new locations, Al Baker told the Qatari news network. That will help the carrier continue its expansion and allow it to earn a “good profit” next year after boosting earnings by 22 percent in the fiscal year ending March 2017.
The ban imposed by the four Arab countries will also affect their national carriers, including the world’s biggest long-haul airline Emirates, and erode confidence in the region’s air connectivity, Al Baker said.
ICAO is working to “bring these states together towards a solution which satisfies both their current regional concerns and the global needs and expectations of passengers and shippers,” the agency said in its email.