Regional airlines stay aloft despite conflict

28 March 2003
Middle East airlines say they have resumed normal schedules following a brief suspension of certain flights to Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar at the outset of war in Iraq. The assurances of regional airlines come in marked contrast to the decision of other international carriers, including KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, British Airways, Germany's Lufthansaand Alitalia, to suspend many of their Middle East routes and cut back international flights.

Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Gulf Air, Egypt Airand Emirates Airlineshave confirmed that they have returned to normal scheduled services. 'Qatar Airways continues to fly to its destinations across the globe, on time and with viable loads,' chief executive officer Akbar al-Baker said on 23 March. 'Qatar Airways was the first regional airline to fly into Kuwait when the airport reopened.'

Kuwait International Airport and Doha International Airport reopened on 21 March, a day after the start of the US-led military campaign in Iraq disrupted flight schedules in the Gulf. The Department of Civil Aviation in Dubai has also confirmed that Dubai International Airport will continue to operate as normal.

The International Air Traffic Association (IATA) estimates that regional traffic fell on average by more than 50 per cent during the 1990-91 Gulf war. A similar decline is expected, mostly due to cutbacks by international airlines based outside the region.

However, a number of local carriers such as Egypt Air and Tunis Air, which are highly dependent on tourist traffic from Europe, are expected to suffer losses. Gulf Air, which is rebuilding its business following the withdrawal of Qatar from its stakeholding consortium, is also vulnerable. IATA estimates that if the war lasts between one and three months, the cost to the industry worldwide could be as much as $6,000 million (MEED 29:2:03, Cover Story).

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