By: Miguel R. Camus
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines said flights to the Middle East were operating as scheduled, despite a growing diplomatic row between Qatar and a bloc of countries in the region comprised of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen, and Egypt.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, PAL said it continued to operate 30 flights per week to the Middle East, including four weekly flights to Doha, Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bharain, Yemen, and Egypt countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing the latter of supporting terrorism in the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain also closed off air, land and sea routes to Qatar.
In its statement, PAL said the Philippines was not a party to the row. But it would “observe guidelines issued by said nations.”
One example was the Abu Dhabi Airport Immigration’s order to bar UAE nationals from traveling to Qatar. It likewise said all Qatari nationals would not be allowed to enter the UAE or transit through its airports.
“In light of these guidelines, Philippine Airlines shall not carry Qatari nationals into the UAE (Abu Dhabi / Dubai) and shall not carry UAE nationals into Qatar (Doha),” PAL said.
“PAL continues to monitor the situation and shall issue updates/announcements, as needed,” the carrier added.
PAL also flies seven times per week to Dubai, four times to Kuwait, five times to Dammam, three times to Jeddah, and seven times to Riyadh.
The airline did not immediately respond to a query on whether Filipino passengers bound for the Middle East were rebooking or canceling their flights, to wait until tensions ease.
A source with knowledge of the matter, however, said there had been inquiries from passengers with regard to rebooking and cancellation of flights.
The diplomatic situation arose as Philippine carriers grapple with seat overcapacity issues in the Middle East. Even before the diplomatic crisis broke out, PAL and Cebu Pacific already announced a reduction in Middle East flights.
Specifically, PAL said it would suspend its flights from Manila to Abu Dhabi on July 8 this year. Cebu Pacific announced a deeper cut, saying it would suspend Doha, Riyadh and Kuwait through July this year, while keeping Dubai in the UAE.
Meanwhile, think tank CAPA-Center for Aviation said there were immediate consequences for Qatar Airways, one of the world’s biggest airlines. Qatar Airways also operates in Manila and Clark.
So far, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE, have closed their airspace to Qatar for landing and take-off activities, CAPA said. Saudi Arabia went further by banning Qatar-operated planes from using its airspace, even for “overflight” purposes. CAPA said the situation could worsen if Qatar’s other neighbours followed suit.
“Losing Saudi airspace is significant, but even worse would be losing Bahrain airspace since it practically encircles Qatar. Most Qatar Airways flights to Europe can (and prior to the airspace ban, did) track north of Saudi Arabia,” CAPA said.
“Closing of Saudi airspace requires timely and costly diversions to other Middle East destinations as well as to most of Africa. Losing Saudi, Bahrain and UAE airspace would effectively ground Qatar Airways save for any fifth freedom services,” it added.
The crisis comes just as the Philippines and Qatar concluded air talks last May 31. This would pave the way for more flights from Doha to Manila and Clark as well as a possible landmark route between Doha and Davao by Qatar Airways. /atm