Qatar Claims to have Taken a Significant Step Toward Controlling its Own Airspace

Qatar has announced that a UN commission has given it preliminary approval to regulate its own airspace, months after resolving a dispute with its neighbours. 

Qatar stated on Tuesday that the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has granted it authority “in principle” to establish its own Flight Information Region (FIR) in its airspace. 

This judgment came in reaction to Doha’s desire to withdraw from an agreement it had signed with Bahrain, a neighbouring Gulf state, to outsource its air navigation services. 

The deal’s flaws were underscored by a three-year disagreement with Qatar’s Gulf neighbours, led by Saudi Arabia, which left Qatar fully reliant on access to airspace controlled by other countries. 

The former colonial power, the United Kingdom, left Qatar and Bahrain with maritime boundaries that have been the basis of ongoing tensions and conflicts. Existing land and maritime borders play a key role in determining airspace. 

At last month’s meetings, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) “agreed, in principle… with the establishment of a Doha Flight Information Region (FIR) and Doha Search and Rescue Region (SRR),” Qatar’s transport and communications ministry said in a statement. 

It would “include Qatar’s sovereign airspace and another contiguous airspace over the high seas to optimize regional airspace safety and efficiency,” it added. 

Qatar also stated its desire to withdraw from the current arrangement under which it has outsourced the provision of air navigation services over its sovereign territory to Bahrain. 

The action comes just months after Qatar and several Gulf countries, including Bahrain, reached a historic agreement. Doha was cut off from the regional group led by Saudi Arabia in 2017, accusing it of aiding “terrorism,” which it denied. 

They slapped a slew of sanctions, including banning Qatari planes from their airspace, closing Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia, and expelling Qataris. 

In December, Qatar denounced four Bahraini fighter jets violating international airspace to the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary-General. 

Qatar’s envoy to the UN, in a letter to Security Council members and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said that Bahraini military aircraft violated Qatar’s airspace by flying over the country’s territorial waters on December 9, 2020. 

The International Court of Justice, which was established in 1946 to resolve disputes between UN member states, rejected the blockading quartet’s appeal against a ruling by the world civil aviation organization in favour of Qatar over sovereign airspace in July of this year. 

Qatar accused its neighbours of violating a treaty that regulates the free passage of its passenger planes through international airspace, and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) determined in 2018 that it had the authority to settle the case. 

Qatar Airways, which, along with the Dubai-based Emirates, is one of the largest airlines in the Middle East, has become a prominent participant in the airline business as the country prepares to host the 2022 World Cup. 

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