UN agency eyes talks to end Gulf airspace standoff
March 29 2018 11:23 PM


The United Nations' aviation agency is trying to facilitate talks between Qatar and its neighbours to defuse tensions over alleged airspace violations, but will not intervene politically in the dispute, two sources familiar with the matter said. 
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is working to organise a regional meeting for Gulf civil aviation and air traffic authorities in the next few weeks, as part of broader efforts to improve communication, one of the sources said.
Qatar has filed a complaint with the UN Security Council against Bahrain, accusing a fighter jet belonging to Manama of violating its airspace earlier this week. 
The Qatar News Agency said the act was a “serious breach that constitutes a serious and flagrant violation of international law.”
Also in January this year, Qatar had complained to the Security Council after the UAE violated its airspace. In a letter to the secretary-general, Qatar said a UAE fighter jet entered Qatar's airspace on December 21 last year in flagrant violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"Sometimes if you're having a feud with your neighbour you need someone to facilitate the conversation," the source said.
Montreal-based ICAO cannot impose binding rules on governments, but wields clout through its safety and security standards which are approved by its 192-member countries.
ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin said that the agency is "presently monitoring these incidents (of airspace violations) and working with all of the countries concerned to help keep the skies in this part of the world open, safe, and secure."
ICAO's governing council, however, is not planning to intervene in these latest disputes over airspace infringement, said the second source.
Improving communication is key because Qatar has limited airspace, the first source said. Both aviation industry sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. 
Since January, the Gulf states have traded accusations over infringements of their respective airspace. In June 2017, the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt cut political, economic and transport ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamist extremists. Qatar denies the accusations.
The dispute has the potential to disrupt flights in a region with millions of travellers each year. 
In June, ICAO's governing council is expected to hear arguments by the Gulf states over the boycott, which Qatar is challenging, said the second source. ICAO last year helped Qatar Airways access contingency routes over international waters.

Last updated: March 30 2018 05:43 PM

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