It is fair to suggest that almost all passengers who book long haul flights on Qatar Airways that connect over its Doha hub have no knowledge of the history, politics or economics of the tiny sovereign state in the Middle East.
But today is, without warning, a very different day. Qatar, pronounced ‘cutter’ has been cut off in terms of diplomatic relations, by all of its powerful neighbours except Iran, and its air, sea and land routes in the Gulf region either cut or seriously curtailed.
If you are booked on a Qatar Airways flight today, do check very carefully that it is operating as scheduled before leaving for the airport. The extent of any disruptions, as well as uncertainty as to how long they may persist, may not be apparent until later in the day, or week.
The air transport aspect of the Qatar cut off isn’t the major story. This is a very complicated geo-political story, and whether it fizzles out in the short term, or goes ‘off’ there is much more in question than the inconvenience passengers passing through its ‘glittering’ Doha hub might experience.
Qatar Airways is in most cases seen as a means to an end with a reputation for offering high quality full service air travel, and a carrier with big ambitions to grow its Australia and New Zealand services toward the scale of its Middle East rivals of Emirates and Etihad in this market.
The sudden crisis will however be very unsettling for Airbus and Boeing, who are sitting on massive yet to be paid for future deliveries of airliners to Qatar Airways. The airline is in the midst of a huge refleeting and expansion exercise involving Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s, and an untidy effort to play off new Airbus A320NEOs and Boeing 737 MAXs against each other after Pratt and Whitney totally failed to deliver reliable new tech jet engines in a timely manner to the European consortium, which was supposed to be the launch customer for the first NEOs.
However in the backlog, Qatar Airways has a further 60 or more A350s on order, some 46 or so A320 NEOs, and possibly as many as four A380s (with plans to permanently upgrade its Melbourne-Doha flights to A380s later this year.) It is a critical early buyer of the Boeing 777-X series, with 50 of the 777-9s and 10 of the 777-8s or order, or roughly 20 percent of total orders for the upgraded big twin jet due in service from late 2020. It also has a large backlog of 787 Dreamliner orders. (There is imprecision in the lists of what Qatar Airways has recently put into service and what it intends to introduce in the future.)
As the situation stands early on Tuesday Qatar Airways faces difficulties getting efficient air routes for some of its flights. It’s not impossibly difficult for some of those flights to Europe or the US to operate, but they may have to burn a lot more fuel and take payload cuts. There are doubts that services to parts of Africa can realistically operate at all.