Qatar has been given its own airspace, the Doha FIR, following a decision by the ICAO. This is the first time in history the airspace map has changed to include a country without an airspace.

 

New airspace over the Gulf

An important day for the Middle East, as the International Civil Aviation Organisation awards Qatar its airspace, the Doha FIR. The country has been without airspace since the first maps were drawn, but following the GCC blockade, the ICAO has seen the need for Qatar to have control of its skies. The ICAO is a UN agency that deals with civil aviation and are responsible for deciding the boundaries of the ‘flight information regions’ or ‘FIRs’. They determine the size and shape of a country’s airspace.

Qatar’s new airspace will be taken from Bahrain’s existing airspace and share borders with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran. It covers all of Qatar and areas of the Persian Gulf. This is the first time the map of the Middle East’s skies has been changed in 30 years.

the Doha FIR new Qatar airspace
The new Doha FIR will be introduced in two phases | © Alex Macheras

The Doha FIR will be introduced in two phases (pictured above). The first phase will see Qatar gain control of ‘Area A’ at an unlimited altitude and ‘Area B’ up to 24,500ft. Within two years, Area B will join with Area A to become an unlimited altitude area.

What will this mean for Qatar?

Primarily, the new airspace will give Qatar the necessary independence over the use of its skies. Until now, Bahrain has had the largest airspace in the Gulf, despite being the smallest of the Gulf states. This dates back to a decision made in 1971 when Bahrain gained its independence from Britain. The airspace above the region was originally drawn up based on the locations of military radar bases, and since Qatar and Bahrain had good ‘brotherly’ relations at the time, Qatar agreed that Bahrain could continue to control its outsized airspace.

Things changed in 2017, however, following the GCC blockade. During this time, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain all closed their airspaces to Qatari aircraft, preventing the nation from flying. The ICAO later recognised this as a breach of their Chicago convention and began to consider Qatar’s proposal for the establishment of its own airspace. It has taken many years for the proposal to be worked through, but now, at last, the ICAO has come to a verdict that will grant Qatar control of its skies.

Another benefit for the Gulf state will be the ability to charge airfares for overflights. This means that they will be able to extract fees from any aircraft using their airspace, which is standard practice in aviation. At present, close to 70% of flights to the UAE fly through the new Qatari airspace. Given Dubai’s status as a global transport hub, Qatar could stand to benefit substantially from its new powers.

What are your thoughts on the Doha FIR? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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