The heat is coming off the aviation sector in the United Arab Emirates and not because of the desert. No its far more deadly. The UAE has accused Qatari fighter jets of flying close to Emirate Civilian aircraft during scheduled commercial flights, endangering the passengers.
UAE Civil Aviation Authority DG Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi has filed a formal complaint with both the UN and ICAO.
In a statement he said :
“These aggressive actions by Qatar against UAE civilian aircraft are considered deliberate violations of international covenants and conventions governing civil aviation and are a threat to the safety of civil aviation. The UAE outright rejects these acts.”
But what is really behind all this hot air is something that is really serious. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have decided to shut down Qatar for a long list of perceived terror links. At least that’s the formal notice. The informal reality is that passengers on Emirates Flights may be blissfully unaware of just how dangerous these air lanes are right now.
Swirling around the desert air are allegations of various sorts. Qatar is a one-party state run by conservative clerics who are accused of funnelling cash to extremists while hosting friendly media.
In the latest spat, Qatari fighter jets apparently flew close to two UAE civilian aircraft and in January, a similar incident is reported to have taken place when a Qatar jet flew in front of two other planes. At least that’s according to the UAE.
In January, Qatar complained to the United Nations saying that a UAE jet flew into their airspace on December 21st.
Then in January, the UAE said two civilian flights carrying 277 passengers were intercepted by Qatari military aircraft while preparing to land at Bahrain International Airport.
It all began in June 2017 when Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Middle East cut diplomatic ties with Qatar which immediately pushed up the price of oil. You know how commodity speculators work, any sign of a hitch and they’re all off shorting the world’s crude.
But its all very serious. Qatar is accused of funding extremism in the Middle East and Africa. Everything in the UAE and Qatar and Saudi Arabia is controlled by these country’s governments, including the much touted al-Jazeera network broadcasting from Qatar. Despite its claims of independence, it has shied away from probing the Qatar government too closely, while digging deeply into Egypt, the U.S.A, Israel etc etc.
But this is an aviation blog, so I digress.
Riyadh had criticised Doha for supporting Iran and Islamist organisations accused of destabilising the Middle East. Then a mysterious cyber attack threw a digital spanner in the works in May 2017. The State-run Qatar News Agency was attacked by hackers who posted articles that were confused but clearly sought to damage Doha’s image.
At the time, Qatar issued a statement accusing Saudi Arabia of being behind the hacks but before they could sort this out, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen cut all diplomatic ties with Qatar.
They also cut all land, sea and air links while recalling their diplomats.
In the midst of this caterwailing the UAE said pointedly that Qatar supported “terrorist, extremist and sectarian organisations”. Not that the UAE is not itself a conduit for dirty cash, with its loose attention to money transfers that South Africans know only too well. Given the Gupta-links and the ease at which they managed to pull their cash out of South Africa and directly into Dubai-linked bank accounts.
While the UAE and Qatar spar with each other, the reality of what belies this clash is almost insurmountable because it involves religion. Qatar and Turkey are a known link with Islamic extremists and organisations that other Middle Eastern countries believe are terror-linked. These include the Muslim Brotherhood which Egypt has banned but Qatar supports. Saudi Arabia and Qatar also support extremist groups in Syria, although both deny any links.
Yet Qatar mediates between countries and terror organisations including the release of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl captured by the Taliban. Doha was the go-to country which could be relied on when it came to Taliban links. Whatever your freedom fighter/terrorist belief system, the real story is a real danger to aviation.
These are airlines which are subsidised and are not operating on a level playing field so their very livelihood depends on towing the government line. The aviation industry in general in both Qatar and the UAE is central to the perception that they have a vibrant economy and are modern. They both boast about being able to attract the best pilots and cabin crew and operate the latest aircraft. Their business models are based on being an connecting region for flights from Africa, Latin America, South East Asia, Australasia and Europe.
So enjoy your flights onboard Emirates and Etihad folks, because if this conflict gets any worse, these state-subsidised airlines may find themselves caught up in the diplomatic war more regularly and that’s really dangerous.
Qatar Airlines already flies a circuitous route to avoid Saudi and UAE airspace which is adding millions of dollars to its operating costs.
This issue is a small step away from a major event.