Qatar Airways can now overfly Saudi Arabia, cutting 40 minutes off the flying time to Johannesburg. The first flight on the new routing, QR1365 from Doha to Johannesburg, took off on January 7.
This is the first time the airline has been able to fly over the Saudi kingdom, or through the airspace of many neighbouring states, since June 2017 when a blockade against Qatar was instituted by several states.
While the blockade was in force, QR’s southbound flights (including the Johannesburg service) had to fly east from Doha, down the Persian Gulf, over Oman and the Arabian Sea, then down the east coast of Africa. Now, it can fly west from Doha and across Saudi Arabia, cutting up to an hour off its Africa routes.
The land, sea and air blockade was implemented in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt accused the state of Qatar of supporting terrorism and having close ties with Iran. The blockading countries’ demands included that Qatar close down Al Jazeera, reduce diplomatic relations with Iran and stop military co-ordination with Turkey. After three years of diplomacy, reconciliation was reached on December 4.
The removal of the blockade will have a significant effect on the fortunes of Qatar Airways. Apart from the fuel and time savings on its southbound flights, its Middle East operations will be simplified, and it will once more be able to fly to some of the most important hubs in the Arab world, such as Jeddah, Cairo, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and Manama. Airlines like Emirates, Saudia and Gulf Air will be able to enjoy the restoration of their routes to Doha too.