In a major landmark decision, air travel between Qatar and Saudi Arabia resumed effective from January 11 after the two nations normalised ties in a historic agreement that now dissolves the long-standing blockade between Qatar and the Gulf quartet. Qatar Airways took off from Doha’s airport as the first commercial flight between Qatar and Saudi in nearly three and a half years. The flight departed at 10:45 GMT from Doha’s airport and touched down in King Khalid International Airport at 12:10 GMT. Meanwhile, a Saudi Airlines plane flew from Riyadh to Doha departing the kingdom on Monday.
Gulf nations the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt had closed their airspace for Qatar in June 2015 as relations between the Gulf countries thawed over Doha’s cementing of relations with Iran and concerns of terrorism. Sources of Al Arabiya TV revealed that Qatar will reroute the aeroplanes once again that will fly above Saudi Arabia's airspace as the kingdom removed the travel ban and reopened air borders with the Gulf state. Last week, a Doha-Johannesburg trip flight unofficially flew above Saudi, making it the first plane to make a historic journey since 2015. Meanwhile, sources at Al-Arabiya also revealed that Egypt will soon be the next Gulf nation to open its airspace to Qatar flights basis Doha’s fulfilment of 'Egyptian requirements'.
The resumption of air travel between the Gulf nations will have a distinct impact on aviation in the region after the blockade against Qatar hampered travel and trade between two nations for over three years. The Qatari national carrier will now reduce the flying time to roughly two-and-a-half hours from the previous 4 hours when the plane avoided Saudi Arabia and the UAE airspace. While Qatari planes are avoiding the Saudi’s route of now, they’re expected to start flying after Qatar Airways enters Saudi’s space today.
Earlier, Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani landed at the Saudi city of al-Ula on Qatar Airways Airbus A340 for the 41st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit and was received by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The plane emblazoned with the text “QATAR” landed northwestern Saudi Arabia. Saudi, in a historic move, opened its airspace and land and sea borders with Qatar for the first time after the two nations reached a breakthrough agreement, ending Saudi’s long-standing dispute with Doha.