Middle East Diplomatic Crisis Threatens Regional Air Freight Operations

A spiraling diplomatic crisis in the Arab Gulf region is already snarling overland logistics along the Qatar-Saudi Arabia border, and regional freight forwarding is running into complications as Emirates and Etihad operations terminating in Doha grind to a halt.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and Libya all announced that they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar today, which, on the aviation side, means denial of airspace rights to Qatar Airways. Without the ability to fly to these countries, or use their airspace, the move is likely to result in longer routes for Qatar Airways, higher fuel bills, and the potential for stranded freight.

An announcement on the Qatar Cargo site stated: “Qatar Airways has suspended all flights to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia until further notice. For existing shipment bookings, please call your nearest Qatar Airways Cargo office.”

Etihad Cargo released 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… 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.”

Part of what made regional logistics so attractive, and successful, was regional integration, which is now suffering. Even before this latest incident, the Middle East put up some disappointing numbers in IATA’s April air freight report. At just 3.1 percent, the decades of double-digit growth seem to be slipping away, as the region adjusts to a new economic reality. But that new reality was predicated on stability and regional integration.