Impact of the Airspace Ban on Qatar Airways Air Navigation Costs

Jun 08, 2017


Qatar Airways has been banned from operating in the airspace of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, and flights to those countries have also been halted. The operational impact of the action will be significant, as almost 25% of Qatar Airways departures (though just 4% of their ASKs) are to these countries; Doha will likely be home to many parked aircraft for the duration of the bans.

From a route planning aspect, flying the remaining schedule will clearly face some disruption. The closure of Bahraini and UAE airspace, with just a single corridor to the outside world, will be an annoyance; easy to route around given the small size involved, but their location surrounding Qatar makes it irritating nonetheless. The most significant operational impact will be from the closure of Saudi Arabian airspace (which makes the closure of Egyptian airspace operationally ineffective), as many westbound flights from Qatar overfly the Kingdom.

Based on the normal operating schedule, we estimate that over 60% of Qatar Airways departures (85% of their ASKs) will experience limited or no real impact from the airspace closures, at worst being affected by the Bahrain and UAE bans. That leaves around 15% of departures that will see their routings significantly changed, and thus their air navigation (and other) costs increased.

Routes to northern Europe and the US shouldn’t see too much in the way of extra costs and distances as they are already served on routings via Iran and Turkey. However, the closure of Saudi Arabian airspace means that flights to southern Europe and northern Africa are unable to make the most of the cheaper navigation costs flying along the southern Mediterranean, and instead must overfly Europe via Iran and Turkey. Other flights affected include east African destinations and the Sao Paolo route to Brazil.

Impact of airspace ban on route to Madrid (old route in red)

Impact of airspace ban on route to Madrid

Source: AirportCharges

Routes to southern Africa won’t be too badly affected, the only real impact being the need to route around UAE airspace rather than fly through it. Routes to other Middle Eastern destinations also see limited impact from a navigation cost standpoint, although flight times have increased. For example, Jordan and Lebanon experience only a small increase in navigation fees, as access via Iran and Turkey is only marginally more expensive than the more direct routing over Saudi Arabia. Routes to Asia will experience no real impact at all.

In terms of additional costs, a typical Rome service will experience an increase in air navigation fees of around USD 600 one-way. Flying further afield to Madrid or Barcelona, the air navigation fees will increase by around USD 1,800 one-way. To eastern Africa and Brazil, the likely increases in navigation fees will be between USD 800 and USD 1,500 on a one-way basis.

There will also be a cost to the irritation of flying around Bahraini and UAE airspace for all other routes not significantly impacted – individually not a significant cost, but one borne by a large percentage of Qatar’s routes. Set against this are the savings made by not flying routes to the countries where the ban is in place. Our analysis suggests that these two factors almost cancel each other out, with the savings outweighing the extra costs, but not by much.

Should the airspace closures last for the whole month of June, this would add over USD 430,000 to Qatar Airways’ costs of operating routes to Spain, and for routes to Italy, we estimate that air navigation costs could increase by around USD 160,000. Combining all those destinations impacted by the airspace bans, we estimate that the additional cost to Qatar Airways in increased air navigation fees alone will amount to over USD 1 million per month.

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Richard Leigh


Richard Leigh

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