Qatar Cites Covid-19 in Bid to Regain Access to Neighbors’ Skies

Simone Foxman and Layan Odeh

(Bloomberg) --

Qatar is renewing its push to regain access to the airspace of Gulf neighbors by invoking the coronavirus.

Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater said the government refiled on March 29 a complaint with the United Nations civil aviation agency over a ban on Qatar-registered aircraft in airspace controlled by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Reopening the airspace would “avoid further derailing of these humanitarian efforts and medical assistance,” Al Khater said in a statement. She said Qatar had flown aid shipments to China, Iran, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, as well as flights shuttling Europeans and Americans back home.

Airspace access has become a key issue in the ongoing squabble between Qatar and the four nations that cut diplomatic ties and shuttered their borders to the natural-gas rich nation in June 2017. The U.S. has pushed the countries to resolve their differences amid rising tensions with Iran.

Qatar is home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, yet the embargo has made the country reliant on Iran’s airspace. While longer flight times and higher fuel costs have generated losses at state-backed Qatar Airways, the carrier has continued to expand its global reach and plans to increase capacity at Hamad International Airport in Doha.

William Raillant-Clark, a spokeman for the International Civil Aviation Organization, had no comment on the dispute. He said ICAO is supporting the efforts of unidentified states to “ensure continued access for humanitarian reasons.”

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