LONDON – Yesterday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the Qatar blockade applied by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates is illegal.

Though just on paper, for now, the ruling is a massive win for Qatar and Qatar Airways (QR).

A7-BCB Qatar Airways 787-8. Credits: Filippo Martini-RomeAviationSpotter

What this means for Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways can resume flights using the airspace of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

While the airline will not necessarily be allowed to fly to these countries, at least it can use the airspace.

What remains to be seen is whether these countries will honor the ruling, or how they will try to drag their feet. They have not given up easily until now, and I would not be surprised to see that trend continue.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner A7-BHG. Photo: ©Luca Flores

A Few Words about The Qatar Embargo

The Qatar blockade began in June 2017. With this, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, introduced a land, sea, and air embargo on Qatar, claiming it supported “terrorism” and was too close to Iran.

This has had a major impact on QR since the airline has been restricted from using the airspace of nearby countries.

Qatar rejected the claims and said there was “no legitimate justification” for the severance of relations.

There has since been little progress towards a resolution. Qatar and the UAE remain locked in a battle at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after Doha filed a racial discrimination case.

Since the Qatari prime minister visited Saudi Arabia last year for a series of summits, the highest-level meeting since the beginning of the crisis, Doha subsequently expressed reservations about the statements issued in Mecca.

A7-ACA Qatar Airways A330-200. Credits: Filippo Martini-RomeAviationSpotters

Restrictions Ruled to Be Illegal

Qatar Airways has been trying to battle the legality of the blockade since it started.

While countries have the right to cut off trade and close borders with one another, under the Convention of International Civil Aviation, they do not have the right to restrict airspace without any real motivation as the blockade started after a false statement posted by hackers. Specifically, a clause from the Convention states:

“Each contracting State reserves also the right, in exceptional circumstances or during a period of emergency, or in the interest of public safety, and with immediate effect, temporarily to restrict or prohibit flying over the whole or any part of its territory, on condition that such restriction or prohibition shall be applicable without distinction of nationality to aircraft of all other States.”

This seems pretty cut-and-dry; even so, Qatar has not been able to get this undone. The countries imposing the blockade have attempted to question the International Civil Aviation Organization’s jurisdiction over the matter.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350-1000 interiors. Credits: Airbus.

Qatar Airways’ Comments

In a statement, the airline said the following:

“Qatar Airways welcomes the Judgment of the International Court of Justice affirming that the ICAO Council has the jurisdiction to hear any disagreement relating to the interpretation and implementation of the Chicago Convention 1944 and the International Air Services Transit Agreement.”

“We look forward to observing the return of the State of Qatar to Montreal to urge the ICAO Council to condemn the illegal airspace blockade of it and take appropriate actions to require the four blockading states to comply with their obligations under international law in order to restore the normalcy of international civil aviation.”

“In line with the ruling of the ICJ and the legal precedent allowing the State of Qatar to continue its case at ICAO against the blockading States, Qatar Airways will pursue its case for appropriate compensation of the financial injuries inflicted on Qatar Airways as a result of the illegal airspace blockade.”

“The arbitrary and abusive measures that these four States have taken against us have devastated our carefully planned decades-long programme for investment and growth in those countries; they have arbitrarily prevented us from serving hundreds of thousands of passengers, and transporting tens of thousands of tons of cargo to and from each of these countries annually. “

“At Qatar Airways, we firmly believe that travel is a right for all and that this world is all of ours to explore.  Qatar Airways will pursue all available legal remedies to secure full compensation to protect our rights and the rights of our customers.”

Is This Story Close to An End?

Qatar has continued to escalate the situation, and it has now finally been heard in the United Nations’ International Court of Justice.

Today a verdict has been issued, and it is in Qatar’s favor. The International Court of Justice has confirmed that ICAO does have the jurisdiction to prevent these kinds of blockades, meaning that the blockade against Qatar by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is illegal.

In theory, this should have a positive impact on the airline, as it can stop taking unnecessarily circuitous routes, wasting time and fuel.