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Qatar’s airspace deal to boost global aviation ambitions

Qatar is to establish its own airspace
  • Hamad International Airport is seventh busiest airport in the world
  • Daily air traffic anticipated to increase from 700 to 1,800 for World Cup
  • QCAA selected Vienna-based firm to modernise air traffic control 

Qatar is gearing up to establish its own airspace in a move that is key to the country’s ambitions to becoming a global aviation hub.

The Qatari Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) has signed a pact with representatives of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, with the activation of operations of the new Doha flight information region (FIR) set to begin on Thursday.

Separation of Qatari airspace, which has previously been under Bahraini control, has been achieved after years of talks, notably following the political Qatari blockade in 2017.

In 1971, when Qatar and Bahrain gained independence from the UK, the countries signed an agreement in which Qatari air navigation services were delegated to Manama.

John Grant, chief analyst at global travel data provider OAG and partner of Midas Aviation, told AGBI: “More than anything, this is about controlling your own destiny and recognition of the size that the Qatari market and Doha have become.

“It should not materially change anything for anyone but is just another step on the global positioning that the country wants as an aviation centre.”

According to OAG’s latest list of the world’s busiest international airports, Hamad International Airport in Doha is ranked seventh. In August, it provided a total of 2,175,103 seats for international flights, representing a rise from its ranking of 15th pre-pandemic.

Formerly known as New Doha International Airport, Hamad International Airport opened in April 2014, replacing the nearby Doha International Airport. It became the first Middle East airport to be awarded the Skytrax’s World Best Airport for 2021 in the 2021 World Airport Awards, ending the seven-year dominance of Singapore’s Changi Airport. It retained the title earlier this year.

The airspace move comes just months ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, when shuttle flights will take place between countries in the region, with daily air traffic movements in Qatar anticipated to increase from 700 to up to 1,800.

Talks have also been completed as Qatar Airways continues its rapid growth trajectory which saw the carrier report a record net profit of QR5.6 billion ($1.54bn) for the fiscal year 2021/22. Overall revenue increased to QR52.3bn, up 78 percent compared to the previous year.

Airport, Convention Center, Architecture
Hamad International Airport in Doha

After opening new routes across Africa as well as resuming flights to key markets across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the airline now flies to more than 140 destinations.

Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti, Qatar’s Transport Minister, said in a statement that the Gulf state is prepared for activation of the FIR, which will lead to the expansion of routes and increase in aircraft holding capacity.

He added that Qatar signed a similar agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran in April, meaning all the stakeholders for the activation of the Doha FIR’s operational processes are now complete.

He said Qatar’s civil aviation industry has significantly progressed in terms of modernising its air navigation systems in step with latest international specifications.

Ops Group, a membership organisation for the pilots, flight dispatchers, schedulers and controllers in the aviation industry, said: “While the airspace is smallish in the schemes of airspace size, it is biggish in terms of importance for the region.

“Around 30 percent of traffic in and out of the UAE routes travel via Qatari airspace, over Kuwait and then up via Iraq to Europe, avoiding Iranian airspace to the right.”

Tower, Architecture, Building
Vienna-based Frequentis is modernising the airport’s traffic control operations ahead of the FIFA World Cup

The International Civil Aviation Organisation allowed Qatar to establish its own FIR during a session held in March. 

“The implementation of Doha FIR decision calls for the encouragement of broader regional cooperation, while the technological and scientific innovations supporting a greener future for flight could greatly benefit from Qatar’s expertise and resources in this area,” it said.

At the time, aviation analyst Alex Macheras described the move as “extraordinary and historic”, adding that Qatar’s airspace will reduce the size of Bahrain’s airspace and stretch out to the UAE and Iran.

Since that decision was made, “Qatar has been in communication with stakeholders in all countries and held several meetings with neighbouring countries for coordination purposes to enhance cooperation,” the QCAA added in a statement. 

Initially, Bahrain will still control everything above 24,500 feet but, as part of a phased plan, the Doha FIR will receive all the airspace above Qatar’s land and water.

In May, QCAA selected Vienna-based Frequentis to modernise its air traffic control tower operation to meet air traffic demand resulting from the FIFA World Cup in November and December. 

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