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Qatar gets a win as ICJ rules in its favor over air blockade by neighbors

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This week the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered a ruling that will come as good news to Qatar and its national airline Qatar Airways. It concerns the three year-old blockade of Qatar by four of its neighbors – and specifically the fact that they are blocking Qatar-registered aircraft from flying through their airspace. The restriction has led to quite a few headaches for Qatar Airways. We broke down some of the ways the airline was affected back when the blockade was initially put in place.

However what this particular ruling means for Qatar Airways flights has been the subject of some confusion. And though it is a win for Qatar, not much is likely to change for the time being. With that in mind, here’s what you need to know:

  •  In 2017 the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed sanctions on Qatar that included closing its only land border (with Saudi Arabia), blocking Qatari ships, and closing their airspace to Qatari planes. That means many Qatar Airways flights have had to take less direct routings out of Doha (in some cases adding quite a lot of flying time) to avoid the restricted airspace. They also obviously can no longer fly to any cities in those four countries, diminishing their network.
  • Qatar has been fighting the blockade on the international stage ever since it began, and it took the airspace issue to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Qatar’s claim is that the closing of airspace goes against the 1944 Convention on Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention.
  • The four nations imposing the blockade appealed to the ICJ, saying ICAO doesn’t have the jurisdiction to rule on the case because it goes beyond issues of civil aviation.
  • On Tuesday, the ICJ ruled that ICAO is indeed competent to hear the case and can proceed.
  • That sets the stage for ICAO to deliver a final ruling on the matter, but that isn’t expected to come before next year. In the meantime the blockade will likely remain in place. And even if the ICAO rules in Qatar’s favor, it’s not entirely clear how the blockading countries will respond.

Nevertheless, it’s a positive step for Qatar. If ICAO rules for Qatar and the ruling is enforced and followed, it would free Qatar Airways up to shave time and fuel costs off many of their routings. It would also be an important symbolic victory for Qatar even if other aspects of the blockade were to continue. Next year should be an interesting one for aviation in the Gulf.


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