Barring Qatar Airways from Gulf states’ airspace threatens its position as a transcontinental carrier, experts say.
Differences between Qatar and neighboring Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Egypt, led to severing diplomatic ties including air links.
The measures meant canceling dozens of daily flights by Qatar Airways, and also mean Qatari aircraft have to make long diversions, mainly around Bahrain and the vast airspace of Saudi Arabia.
The flight time for a Qatar Airways trip to Sao Paulo in Brazil, for example, has increased by around two hours, according to flight detecting websites.
“The impact is already bad because it has driven up flight times and therefore costs. As the airspace tightens, the problem grows much worse,” aviation analyst Addison Schonland from US-based AirInsight told Agence France Presse.
“Operationally, this is a constraint for the airline that is almost certainly now seeing its profits cut deeply,” he added.
Qatar is almost completely encircled by Bahraini airspace that covers a large part of Gulf waters, and its planes usually cross Saudi airspace on their way to the rest of the Middle East, Africa and South America.
Longer routes will bring passenger numbers down, argued Schonland.
“Future long-haul reservations will come down, because … who wants to sit for longer on an airplane?” he said.
“For the future, Qatar flights’ routes and fuel burn will be increased as a result of this,” said aviation analyst Kyle Bailey.
About 90 percent of Qatar Airways traffic through Doha is transit, according to a report by CAPA Centre for Aviation.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE represent the two largest markets for Qatar Airways, said Bailey.
Losing these “will no doubt be devastating to the carrier’s financial bottom line, wiping out about 30 percent of revenue,” he said.
Part of this transit traffic is likely to be scooped up by Qatar Airways’ regional competitors Dubai-based Emirates and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, experts say.
“No question about it. Especially Emirates because they have the A380 (superjumbo) capacity to catch the traffic without even a hiccup,” said Schonland.
“There is no doubt that Emirates and Etihad would surely be reaping the benefits,” said Bailey.