Business & trade, Middle East, New in Lobbying, Regional conflicts

Qatar hires US firm for support carving out its own airspace from Bahrain’s

Qatar has hired a Virginia aviation consultancy for technical help and coalition building as it presses its bid for its own airspace following a years-long embargo by its Gulf neighbors.

Essa Abdulla al-Malki, the permanent representative at the Qatar’s mission to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, has hired the Aloft Group to help “enhance the chances for a positive outcome” when it makes the case for its own Flight Information Region (FIR) at ICAO Council meetings in June. The 11-week engagement is for an estimated $188,000 and was effective April 5.

Qatar has very little of its own airspace but instead falls almost entirely within Bahrain’s, a legacy of British colonial control over the region prior to the 1970s. The arrangement had worked well until Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in blockading Qatar over its ties to Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood starting in June 2017, throwing Doha’s over-dependence in sharp relief and costing Qatar Airways millions in longer routes. The embargo only ended in January.

The country launched an effort to carve out its airspace starting in August 2018. The country hopes to have its own FIR ready to go operational in March 2022, in time for that fall’s World Cup that is expected to attract 1.5 million visitors to the tiny emirate.

Bahrain reiterated its formal opposition to the proposal in February 2021. It also submitted a list of 22 questions for Qatar to address, including the impact on air traffic to and from Iran and “how the fragmentation of the airspace is [in] alignment with the ICAO objective which calls for single sky policy.”

“The current arrangement is satisfactory and … has provided safe and efficient air traffic services,” Bahrain wrote in its objection signed by Civil Aviation Undersecretary Mohammed Thamir al-Kaabi. “Qatar has not identified technical or operational reasons that justify changes to the existing arrangement and it has not demonstrated how the proposal would result in improving or even maintaining the current level of services.”

The contract with Aloft makes it clear what Doha thinks of those objections.

“The response will use a strong tone but respectful language that will clearly indicate the status quo is unacceptable to Qatar,” the statement of work states. “We do not plan to respond to Bahrain question by question as it only allows for additional delaying on their part.”

The contract also calls for Aloft to help build international support for Qatar’s bid.

“Aloft believes it is important for the Qatar delegation in Montreal to ‘reach out’ to several other State delegations that might empathize with this situation, especially some of the African and Island States,” the contract’s list of requirements and deliverables states. The firm will “work with the Qatar delegation to recommend certain meetings along these lines after we have consulted with some of our contacts. If requests for meetings are successful, [Aloft] will create short ‘briefing papers’ with ‘talking points’ for the Qatar delegation as suggested topics of discussion.”


Gulf lobby fight shows little sign of letting up despite end of embargo

Aloft previously helped Qatar with its application but this is its first time registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The firm did not respond to a request for comment.

The firm’s president and CEO, Thomas Michael Lintner, is the only person currently registered under FARA as the project’s teal lead. The statement of work however lists six other people as working on the project: international safety expert Peter Stastny, ICAO expert Mark Reeves, aviation attorney Federico Franchina, flight operator Luis de Bobadilla, chief controller William Dupon and project manager Terry Eisenbart.