Qatar Airways flew back into Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh on 11 January, its first arrival in the city since a travel blockade was imposed on Qatar by many of its Gulf neighbours in 2017. The arrival continues a warming of relationships in the region, with airspace in the peninsula also now open.
The first plane making the one hour journey was flight QR1164, an airbus A350-1000 that left the Qatar capital at 14 01 local time. Qatar Airways plans to resume a daily service on the route, as well as restarting other destinations in the area.
Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast and Saudia’s second largest city, should receive four weekly flights from Doha, while the hop to Dammam will get direct flights starting on 16 January. A direct Doha to Dammam flight is only one hour, but could take eight during the blockade due to the need to first fly to Kuwait.
Qatar Airways is not the only carrier taking advantage of the improved relationships. Saudia also flew the Riyadh to Doha route on 11 January, starting a plan of four weekly flights.
Meanwhile, regular services are expected to soon resume between Qatar and the other blockade countries of Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Direct links would greatly reduce flight times in the region, as well as lower emissions and reduce costs.
History of the dispute
The blockade of Qatar was introduced in June 2017 and saw Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all close their airspace and sea ports to Qatar-registered vessels, as well as Saudi shut its land border. The move was stated as a response to Qatar abetting terrorism, particularly by permitting terrorism financiers to live in the nation, although Qatar’s close relations with Iran are also believed to have been key. Qatar has always denied the claim it aids terrorism.
The shutting of airspace was a major disruption to travel in the area, with those wishing to move between the nations having to visit neutral third-parties en route. Similarly, flights in and out of Hamad International Airport, Doha’s hub, had to loop around Saudi and UAE airspace.
However, after a Gulf Cooperation Council summit at Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, on 5 January, leaders agreed to reduce restrictions. That move was welcomed by Qatar Airways Group Akbar Al Baker, who said in a company statement:
“We are very pleased with the positive outcome from the GCC Summit and the decision to reopen all borders with Qatar. We look forward to welcoming back our loyal passengers from KSA on board the World’s Best Airline.”
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