International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac has again called for restoration of air connectivity to Qatar that has been impacted because of the blockade by some of its neighbouring countries.

“We have always said connectivity between Qatar and the rest of the world must be preserved and re-established,” de Juniac told Gulf Times at a media event at the IATA headquarters in Geneva.

He said IATA in consultations with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has helped airlines to and from Qatar “fly appropriate corridors” with the rest of the world.

Qatar Airways Group chief executive, Akbar al-Baker has already called on the ICAO to declare the blockade on Qatar “illegal”.

This blockade is unprecedented and in direct contradiction to the convention that guarantees rights to civil overflight. “We call upon the ICAO to declare this an illegal act. We are not a political body, we are an airline, and this blockade has stripped us of the rights which are guaranteed to us,” al-Baker had said earlier.

De Juniac stressed the importance of “freedom for airlines to do business” and said, “A recent trip to Africa reminded me of regulation that we are intensifying our work on — the freedom for airlines to do business. Regulations should fundamentally enable airlines to provide connectivity. To do that we need borders that are open to people and trade. Remember, we are the business of freedom. As a general rule, the business of freedom is at its best in creating value for the world in a liberalised framework. That’s a message I intend to push quite strongly in the year ahead.”

In its industry forecast released at the ‘Global Media Day’ here, IATA, the trade body of world’s airlines said, “The Middle East region’s carriers face challenges to their business models, and from low oil revenues, regional conflict, crowded air space, the impact of travel restrictions to the US, and increasing competition. Despite the challenges, there is positive momentum heading into 2018.”

De Juniac said IATA’s job is to help the airline industry connect people and businesses. “That’s important,” he said.

This year, he said, airlines will safely fly 4bn people and 60mn tonnes of cargo over some 20,000 city pairs.

This is a critical activity for the global economy. About a third of the value of goods traded internationally is shipped by air.

International air travellers spend about $750bn annually. And by bringing together people of different backgrounds and cultures to do business, to learn from one another and to solve problems, aviation provides immense value beyond what can be calculated.

“And that’s why I call it the business of freedom. Global standards are a key enabler of aviation’s benefits. And that is a prime focus for IATA,” the IATA chief said.

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