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Gulf Nations’ Accord Eases Path for Qatari Flights

The “solidarity and stability” agreement ends three-year blockade of Qatar, reopening air, land and sea access to neighboring Gulf countries

January 8, 2021

At this week’s meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain signed a “solidarity and stability” agreement. The accord ends a three-and-a-half year trade and travel blockade of Qatar by the other four Gulf nations.

The deal, which was brokered by Kuwait and the outgoing Trump administration, restores diplomatic and trade ties between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain over Doha’s deepening ties with Iran and Turkey, and its support for terrorist groups – assertions Qatar has consistently denied.

Details of the so-called Al-Ula Declaration were not made public, so it is unclear how far the agreement actually goes, but it is being viewed in diplomatic circles as a major step toward ending a longstanding feud between the Gulf neighbors.

Saudi Arabia’s reopening of air, land and sea access which had been blocked since 2017 was negotiated in the run-up to the GCC regional summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia. The resumption of overflights through Saudi airspace particularly welcome news for Qatar Airways, which was forced to reroute flights around the blockade and had to drop 52 daily services to the other four countries.

Egypt is reportedly ready to open its airspace to Qatar flights as well, according to Middle East news outlet Alarabiya. 

However Alarabiya reports that final sign-off from Egyptian officials is awaiting fulfillment of “certain requirements” by the Qatari government, apparently centered on assurances that Doha will not interfere in Egyptian internal affairs.

The UAE and Bahrain have yet to announce any change in their blockade policy, but Reuters is reporting a senior White House official has said it was “our expectation” that they would join Riyadh in lifting the sanctions.

The more direct routes will allow Qatar Airways to cut flight times, enabling more long-haul routes from Doha. In December the carrier launched nonstop services to San Francisco, and plans to expand its North American network with the addition of Seattle by the end of this month.

Qatar Airways has also recently been beefing up its codeshare agreements around the world. The Oneworld carrier’s start of the Seattle service comes as Alaska Air gets set to join the alliance in March, with a reciprocal Qatar codeshare arrangement in the offing.

In addition, the carrier has also begun a codeshare agreement with China Southern Airlines, placing the Chinese airline’s code on the Qatar’s flights between Guangzhou and Doha. According to Qatar, the codeshare was “the first step in the strengthening of cooperation between both airlines.”