This week, the International Court of Justice ruled in favour of Qatar in the ongoing Gulf airspace blockade. The ICJ ruled that ICAO — the UN body for aviation — does have the jurisdiction to enforce its treaties that the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi and Egypt have violated by specifically blocking Qatari-registered jets from their airspace, since 2017, as part of the wider blockade.
By ruling in favour of Qatar, ICJ today rejected the appeal by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. These Arab states were unhappy with ICAO trying to enforce signed treaties.
The ruling is the most significant development in the air blockade.
The ICJ, the highest court in the world, ruling is in favour of the State of Qatar in a case brought to the court by the UAE, Saudi, Bahrain and Egypt as part of their attempts to justify ongoing violations of ICAO airspace treaties.
During the delivery of the verdict, the court heard how it "holds that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has jurisdiction" in the case, by 15 judges to one.
The ICAO in 2018 ruled it had jurisdiction to handle a dispute brought by Qatar, which accused its neighbours of violating a convention that regulates the free passage of its passenger planes through foreign airspace. But the four Gulf allies disagreed saying the ICAO was not the right body to judge in the dispute and its decision to do so was "manifestly flawed and in violation of fundamental principles of due process and the right to be heard".
With full reassurance from the ICJ that ICAO does have the jurisdiction to be able to settle the dispute and ensure the blockading countries adhere to their signed treaties, Qatar can, and will now proceed with pursuing its case through the UN organisation in Montreal, Canada.
In a tweet, the State of Qatar welcomed the decision, and the country’s Minister of Transport and Communications, HE Jassim Seif Ahmed al-Sulaiti, reportedly expressed his confidence that the ICAO will find in Qatar’s favour, and rule that the air blockade is unlawful.
Back in June 2017, and as part of the wider blockade against the state, these Gulf countries issued instant NOTAMS (notice to flight crew) announcing the immediate closure of their airspace to all Qatari registered aircraft.
In other news, Covid-19 related testing continues to play a vital role in the gradual restoration of air travel. For example, it is now mandatory that anyone arriving in Portugal from the United States, Brazil, or any other non-EU/non-Schengen countries must be in possession of a negative molecular RT-PCR test (standing for real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test) for Sars-COV-2, taken in the previous 72-hours.
If they are not, they risk being fined between €500 to €2000, while the airline that transported them faces a fine in excess of €3000.
Elsewhere, British airline Virgin Atlantic has finalised a rescue deal worth £1.2bn that should protect thousands of jobs. Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group will inject £200m, with additional funds provided by investors and creditors.
The billionaire Virgin boss had a request for government money rejected, leaving the airline in a race against time to secure new investment. Virgin Atlantic is cutting 3,500 staff, but the airline said the remaining 6,500 jobs should be secure. The deal includes funding from US hedge fund Davidson Kempner Capital Management, and the postponement of about £450m in payments to creditors. Virgin Group owns 51% of the airline, with the rest held by US carrier Delta Air Lines. Virgin Atlantic said the refinancing covered the next five years and paved the way for it to rebuild its balance sheet and return to profitability in 2022.
"We have taken painful measures, but we have accomplished what many thought impossible," said chief executive Shai Weiss. "The last six months have been the toughest we have faced in our 36-year history."
In the Middle East, Oman may become the first country to ban its airspace for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) after reports of dubious licences of Pakistani pilots.
It follows the UK and European Union Air Safety Agency’s decision to suspend PIA from operating to the UK and all EU member states for six months, while the International Air Transport Association (IATA) also shared its concern over the serious lapse in the licensing and safety oversight by the aviation regulator.
Finally, Flag carrier of Indonesia Garuda Indonesia is in talks with Airbus to delay deliveries of four aircraft this year, its chief executive said on Tuesday, as the coronavirus outbreak restricts travel and dampens demand. “This year we should receive four Airbus planes, but we are negotiating to delay that,” CEO Irfan Setiaputra said in a parliamentary hearing.
Garuda has nine A330neos on order with Airbus that have yet to be delivered, according to the Airbus order book, while its low-cost arm Citilink has 25 A320neos on order.
An Airbus spokesman decline to comment on the company’s commercial discussion.
Garuda faces financial difficulties after the coronavirus outbreak caused major disruption to global travel, resulting in a 90% drop in passengers volume at Garuda, the airline said last month.
“Today there are a number of lessors who grounded our planes because our incapability to make payments,” Setiaputra said.
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir