As Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates sever diplomatic relations with Qatar, the nations have also closed their airspace to their neighbor.
The lack of access to Bahraini, Emirati, and Saudi airspace could have a devastating effect on Qatar Airways’ operations.
“Losing Saudi, Bahrain, and UAE airspace would effectively ground Qatar Airways,” the CAPA Center for Aviation wrote in a report.
That’s because Qatar actually has very little airspace relative to the size of the country.
“It is largely surrounded by Bahrain airspace (the Bahrain FIR), a slither on the south is managed by Saudi Arabia while the UAE is on the eastern border,” CAPA said.
While losing access to Saudi airspace would force Qatar Airways into the costly maneuver of rerouting its Africa-bound flights, losing access to Bahraini airspace could be catastrophic because the country almost encircles Qatar.
That means, should the ban hold up, Qatar Airways flights would need to fly through airspace they are now barred from to reach their home base in Doha.
Qatar Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how it plans to overcome this challenge.
While the countries are free to refuse landing rights, it is unclear whether Bahrain and the UAE can legally bar Qatar Airways from their airspace. The International Air Services Transit Agreement, of which Bahrain, the UAE, and Qatar are part of, says the countries can’t legally shut off their airspace to fellow signatories. The countries, however, could exit the treaty or try to enforce the ban with the treaty in place.
Saudi Arabia, however, is not an IASTA member country and can legally shut Qatar Airways out of its airspace.
According to Flightradar24, Bahrain notified pilots that it would 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 would 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, the consumer aviation website Skytrax named it the best airline in the world.