In the year 2017, a regional dispute turned into a diplomatic crisis, and Bahrain, UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia collectively agreed to impose a land, sea, and air embargo on Qatar, a breach of ICAO’s Chicago Convention.
Though Qatar shares borders with the majority of blockading states, the closure of Bahrain’s airspace had been the most critical. That’s because, Qatar’s airspace is very small and except for the terminal airspace at OTHH/Doha, Bahrain has had long-standing authority over Qatar’s air traffic, controlling a majority of airspace around and above it.
Qatar airways relied on flying through Bahrain’s comparatively vast airspace which meant very little room to manoeuvre for incoming and outgoing flights.
Ever since Qatar has pushed forward the initiative to get their airspace and although the feedback wasn’t great initially, it has been approved eventually.
A brief history
Bahrain was one of the first places in the Middle East to open its skies. In the year, 1920, the first airfield was earmarked in the area outside Manama, Bahrain. On the 8th of June 1924, the first flight landed in Bahrain from Basra, Iraq. Over the coming years, many airlines started flying and Bahrain became established as the Arabian Gulf’s first international airport.
When Bahrain and Qatar gained their independence from the UK in 1971, there wasn’t any change to the FIR shapes in the Gulf region, which had previously been determined based on where military radars had initially been installed. These radars were positioned from a military efficiency perspective, without taking into account the future of thriving Gulf airline carriers.
With a history of good relations between Qatar and Bahrain, both being members of the GCC (Gulf Council Corporation) and also being signatory members of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Transit Agreement, the Gulf states didn’t see the need for redistribution, given the hassle it would present to the airline flight crew, speaking to four different air traffic controllers within the space of around 15-20 minutes.
The Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) decided to move forward with the creation of the Doha Flight Information Region (FIR) based on the report’s proposed phased approach. This occurred on March 11, 2022, at the Council’s 225th session’s 10th meeting.
The ICAO Council’s resolution, that approved the Doha FIR/dimensions, SRRs including updated Bahrain FIR/SRR dimensions, would be implemented in two stages:
- Phase One of the Doha FIR encompasses all of Qatar’s commercial waters and territory as well as the international waters east of Qatar up to the United Arab Emirates’ boundaries at an unrestricted height. Until the Islamic Republic of Iran’s boundaries, the airspace over the international waters to the north of the State of Qatar will be under strict control up to 24,500 feet above sea level.
- The Council decided that the second phase of the Doha FIR’s expansion to an unlimited altitude would begin within two years after the first phase’s effective execution.
The operating agreement for the activation of the Doha Flight Information Region (FIR) and its connection to the FIRS of the Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates was signed by the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) on August 31, 2022.
So, what changes now?
You will be speaking to a person who is not in Bahrain if you go down into Doha, but you would have been once you arrived at the OTHH/Doha terminal area anyway. Simply put, it will now be a bit early.
All flights operating through or within the Doha FIR and the corresponding flight plans would have to include addresses OTDFZQZX. The current general flight plan is OTHHZPZX.
Despite being relatively tiny in terms of airspace size, the airspace is significant for the area. A little over 30% of air travel into and out of the UAE avoids Iranian airspace to the right by travelling through Kuwait, Bahrain (soon to be Qatar), and then up through Iraq to Europe.
If UAE airspace is closed, OTHH/Doha and OKBK/Kuwait offer two “last” alternatives for en-route diversions for aircraft flying over Iraq. They are also convenient fallbacks if ESCAT procedures prevent airplanes from flying into Saudi Arabia because they are near to Saudi airspace.
SOURCE(s): OPS group, aviationanalyst