By Alex Lennane
Air freight transhipped via the Middle East could be disrupted after several countries decided to cut air, sea, land and diplomatic ties with Qatar. Saudia Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and Libya have all announced a break-off in ties with Qatar over its continued support of Muslim Brotherhood and its relationship with Iran.
All three major Gulf airlines will be affected – the most serious impact will be felt by Qatar Airways, which will be unable to fly to these countries, which have shut their airspace to it. The move is likely to result in longer flight times for Qatar Airways, as well as higher fuel bills. One forwarder said the news was “pretty major for transhipment freight”. He added: “We cannot use Emirates or Etihad for any business terminating at Doha, and we won’t be able to use Qatar for the other countries.” An airline executive agreed that Qatar would be hurt the most. “They won’t solve this in one day,” he added.
Qatar Airways has published a short note on its website, but did not comment further. It said: “Qatar Airways has suspended all flights to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia until 23:59 UTC on 5 June (2.59am, 6 June, Doha time).” It advised customers with an existing cargo booking to call the nearest QR office.
While it only notes the suspension to Saudia Arabia, the UAE and other countries are expected to be added to the list. Emirates, Etihad, Saudia, Gulf Airways, flyDubai and Air Arabia announced they would suspend all flights to and from Doha from 6 June, “as instructed by the UAE government”, noted Emirates. Etihad will upgrade its aircraft on the route to a 777 for the last few flights.
Etihad Cargo said in a statement: “All customers who have cargo booked on Etihad flights to and from Doha are being provided with alternative options and will be contacted directly regarding their specific requirements. Should you have any concerns about specific shipments, please contact your local Etihad Cargo office or alternatively our dedicated customer service team can be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“All other Etihad Cargo flights, including to the rest of the Middle East, are operating as normal. Any further changes to the status of flight schedules to Doha will be communicated through the appropriate channels. Etihad Cargo regrets any inconvenience caused as a result of the suspension.”
Qatar is fairly reliant on both the UAE and Saudi Arabia for its imports. About half of its food is sourced in the Middle East, primarily from the UAE, which also accounts for most of its fruit and vegetables. The UAE accounts for some $2.76 billion of its imports, and is Qatar’s fifth biggest import country. Much of the country’s poultry and dairy products come from Saudi Arabia. Qatar’s only land border crossing with Saudi Arabia, at Abu Samra, sees about 800 trucks cross the border each day.
Reprinted courtesy of The Loadstar (www.theloadstar.co.uk).